Respiratory providers dodge a bullet

Sunday, September 24, 2006

WASHINGTON - The HME industry received a rare piece of good news last week when Senate leaders scrapped a plan to reduce the cap on Medicare oxygen payments to 13 months.

"This isn't a done deal--we won a skirmish, not the war," said John Gallagher, the VGM Group's vice president of government relations.

By that, Gallagher means that the House of Representatives could still draft a bill that proposes to reduce the cap from 36 to 13 months. If that happens, Senate and House members would have to compromise on a final bill. Reducing the cap to 13 months would save Medicare about $6 billion over five years.

Senators had wanted to use those savings to help avoid cutting physician reimbursement by 5.1% on Jan. 1, 2007.

Once VGM got wind of the proposed cap reduction last Tuesday, the Iowa provider-services company mobilized all 400+ employees and providers throughout the state. Together they inundated Sen. Charles Grassley's, R.-Iowa, Washington D.C. office with calls asking him to remove the cap reduction from the bill. As chairman of the Committee on Finance, Grassley wields tremendous power in the Senate.

"He heard from his constituents," Gallagher said. "It was a good showing of what grassroots can do in the home district."

Because the cap could turn up in a House bill, "you have to watch this every day," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy.

"That is why we have to build long-term relationships with members of Congress," Gallagher said. "This is going to be a long-standing fight."