Sen. Roberts: Avoid 'perfect storm' for home oxygen

Sunday, February 10, 2008

WASHINGTON - Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., voiced concerns with the home oxygen reductions outlined in President Bush's 2009 budget during a Finance Committee hearing last week. He also voiced concerns with national competitive bidding.

Like the President's 2008 budget proposal, the 2009 budget proposes to reduce the oxygen rental period from 36 months to 13 months. However, the phrase "and revise the monthly payment amount" was added in the 2009 budget text, which suggests the administration proposes an oxygen rate cut in addition to the shorter rental period. Also, the 2009 proposal seeks to establish a 13-month rental period for power wheelchairs, eliminating the first-month purchase option.

At the hearing, Roberts, long a champion of the home healthcare industry, made the following statements to Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Human Health and Services: "In particular, I am extremely disappointed that the president's budget again proposes to cut the Medicare home oxygen benefit by over 60% by further reducing the rental period for home oxygen. Home oxygen patients and providers are already about to undergo tremendous change in the next 10 months due to the implementation of the competitive bidding program, which has created confusion and exasperation among home health providers."

Roberts continued: "In fact, we are still waiting to hear from CMS on how many contracts were awarded for Round 1 of the program, even though CMS has announced plans to move to Round 2 in 70 more cities later this year without any evidence of success or failure! Next January will also bring the end of certain monthly home oxygen provider payments, and the transfer of equipment ownership to thousands of seniors. This is the perfect storm, and I again want to be on the record stating that we should not exacerbate this by further reducing the oxygen benefit or deepening home health cuts before we know the full impact of existing cuts and policies on Medicare beneficiaries."

In 2007, Roberts played a key role in getting CMS to extend the deadline for submitting bids for the first round of competitive bidding.

At the hearing, Roberts stated: "My colleagues here on the Finance Committee know that I am an outspoken advocate for our home health community. Some might even call me obstreperous. But, I do rant over and over again because I strongly believe in the great service that our home health folks provide for our seniors, and fear that further reductions in their Medicare payments will devastate their ability to provide care."