Secret weapon: Keep it secret no more

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Here is something I'd love to see: 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries in power wheelchairs rolling through Washington D.C. Behind them march dozens of portable oxygen users, followed by beneficiaries supported by rollators or being pushed in manual wheelchairs, a squadron of scooters next and pulling up the rear, a platoon of people wearing CPAP masks. What a sight.
Do you think lawmakers, regulators and policy wonks would pay attention to such an outpouring of industry support? Do you think The New York Times and Washington Post would be all over a story like that, a story about a march on Washington by Medicare beneficiaries worried about seeing their much valued DME benefit gutted by people who don't have a clue? You bet they would.
So why hasn't the industry done something like that, even on a smaller scale, at both the state and federal level? Something dramatic that would put those who want to reduce DME reimbursement on the defensive. Something that would generate public support.
When it comes to lobbying, the industry needs to get more creative, and it certainly needs to do a better job of involving beneficiaries. Many within the industry, but still too few, seem to realize this. In this month's HME News Poll (see page 54), only 6% of 151 respondents said the industry should spend more money on lobbying to improve its image. Thirty-two percent, by far the largest group, said the industry should recruit more patients to achieve that end.
Such a simple notion. Beneficiaries vote, lawmakers listen.
Invacare, Sunrise Medical, Pride Mobility Products, AAHomecare, VGM and various state associations--to name a few--have worked very hard lobbying for the industry.
But when up against the likes of the pharmaceutical industry, which has 535 lobbyists on Capitol Hill, the tiny HME industry, with its limited resources, is at a major disadvantage.
Beneficiaries, on the other hand, are the industry's secret weapon, and a very powerful one. But as long as they remain secret, they can't do much good.