Road ahead: 'We need help' with oxygen reform, competitive bidding

Monday, August 31, 2009

WASHINGTON - What impact will Sen. Edward Kennedy's death, recent town hall meetings on healthcare reform and Sen. Charles Grassley's 180 mean for the industry's efforts to reform oxygen and kill competitive bidding? HME News spoke with John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group, to find out.

HME News: There's a week left in the August recess. How will healthcare reform efforts shape up when lawmakers return?

John Gallagher: With Kennedy passing, it does change some of the dynamics. Some lawmakers are saying, "Gee, let's get healthcare reform done for Ted." He was a consensus builder, so they're telling everyone who's against the current healthcare reform proposals, "Come on over and be with us on this bill." You're starting to see some of those politics play out.

HME: How will the much-publicized town hall meetings that have taken place during the recess affect efforts to get a healthcare reform bill passed this fall?

Gallagher: I think members of Congress will be returning to the Capitol more anxious. The electorate is energized over concerns about government spending. They're not sure they want to go as far as the current healthcare reform proposals. As a result, you're already starting to hear from some Democrats, "We don't want the whole bite of the apple right now." They're changing their language. So the Democrats will probably end up passing a pared-down version of the current proposals. They'll pass something, though, because they can't leave the president on a vine like that.

HME: If lawmakers look to pass a pared-down healthcare reform bill, what does that mean for efforts to reform oxygen and kill competitive bidding?

Gallagher: It certainly comes back on us. How do we make sure we're part of that slimmed-down version? Because, otherwise, the only opportunity we'll have is when lawmakers have to go to appropriations in October and November on the doc fix.

HME: Isn't oxygen reform one of the 50 or so amendments that lawmakers in the House of Representatives plan to take up when they return?

Gallagher: It is. What we're working on in the industry is reaching a consensus--and I think we're there--and then approaching Rep. Mike Ross, the sponsor of H.R. 3220, to submit an amended amendment.

HME: Will Ross be receptive to that?

Gallagher: From what we're hearing, yes.

HME: What about the Senate? The mainstream media has reported that Grassley no longer believes the Finance Committee will be able to craft a bi-partisan deal on healthcare reform in September. What's with the 180, and what impact will it have?

Gallagher: He has hit a lot of town hall meetings in Iowa this month, and he has taken a lot of heat, especially from his conservative base, for his willingness to work on a bipartisan basis. Now he's saying, "I won't vote on a bill that won't be supported by a majority of Republicans."

HME: So what do providers do amid all this political maneuvering?

Gallagher: They need to get out there with members of Congress while they're still in the home districts. They need to attend town hall meetings and be that sane person that says, "We need help. The oxygen cap and competitive bidding are killing us."