Rep. Price: Repeal oxygen cap

Sunday, May 17, 2009

WASHINGTON - The first of the HME industry's two strategies to reshape the oxygen benefit went into play May 12.

Reps. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Heath Shuler, D-N.C., introduced H.R. 2373, a bill that would repeal the 36-month oxygen cap and restore payments. The industry's second strategy--introduce a bill that would reform the entire benefit--is still in the works

"Repealing the cap is the short-term fix and oxygen reform is the long-term fix," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "This bill is important because, even if we were to get reform introduced and passed this year, there would be a transition period."

The Georgia and North Carolina state HME associations worked closely with Price and Shuler to introduce H.R. 2373.

Price introduced an identical bill, H.R. 621, last year. The industry was able to collect 143 co-sponsors for that bill. The industry's goal for H.R. 2373: 218, a majority in the House of Representatives, according to Wayne Stanfield, president and CEO of NAIMES.

"We're planning a big push," he said. "The majority of the HME community can't wait for reform; it will come too late."

Since the cap kicked in Jan. 1, lawmakers have fielded calls from concerned and confused providers and beneficiaries, stakeholders say. As a result, some lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of Health and Human Services and CMS.

The industry aims to leverage that momentum, as well as the larger discussion on healthcare reform, to move H.R. 2373 farther than H.R. 621, stakeholders say.

"The mood in Congress is completely different," Stanfield said.

In the meantime, AAHomecare and other stakeholders continue to work on legislation for oxygen reform and to shop the idea to potential sponsors.

"We're rallying behind all these efforts to protect the oxygen community," said Walt Gorski, the association's vice president of government affairs.