Rehab industry lobbies hard in Washington

Sunday, October 9, 2005

WASHINGTON -- About 50 rehab stakeholders stormed the Capitol last week to try and put the brakes on a trio of proposals that would change the way power mobility devices are provided.
Their mission: Convincing senators and representatives to inundate CMS Administrator Mark McClellan with letters, asking him to delay the implementation of the interim final rule, the local coverage determination and 65 new wheelchair codes.
While CMS has had a full plate, with hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, the stakeholders hope the letters will grab the agency's attention.
"We believe once legislators communicate directly with the heads of CMS, they'll understand the train wreck that's coming," said Cara Bachenheimer, vice president of government relations for Invacare, who visited with senators and representatives from Ohio. "I can't imagine they'll say, 'This is a good set of policies.'"
The stakeholders, who included everyone from consumers to providers to manufacturers, conducted more than 75 visits. It was all part of a fly-in called "Mission Possible: Medicare Beneficiaries Need Access to Mobility" organized by AAHomecare, the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART), the ITEM Coalition and the Restore Access to Mobility Partnership (RAMP).
Stakeholders asked legislators to write letters demanding that CMS announce a "short-term delay," largely because the proposed changes aren't even finalized. For instance, the interim final rule, which changes the documentation requirements for power wheelchair claims from CMNs to prescriptions, goes into effect Oct. 25, but the comment period doesn't close until November.
They also asked legislators to write letters demanding a 90-day "education and implementation" period, beginning when the proposals are finalized.
Sharon Hildebrandt, executive director of NCART, said the new codes that CMS dropped into the industry's lap in the ninth hour proved to be an especially convincing example of the agency's unrealistic expectations.
"When we explained that the original codes were released in February and the new codes in September, but the implementation date remained Jan. 1, they saw it didn't make sense to rush to implement these policies," she said.
Seth Johnson, who heads up AAHomecare's Rehab and Assistive Technology Council, said he expects the fly-in to bolster letters already sent by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and two Pennsylvania senators.
"Hopefully, it'll push us over the mark," said Johnson, director of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.