State associations criticize AAHomecare's NCB strategy

Sunday, May 1, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A group of angry state association leaders from around the country conducted a conference call last Thursday and gave AAHomecare a tongue lashing, claiming the association has not fought hard enough against competitive bidding.

"There is a lot of dissatisfaction in the way national competitive bidding is being handled," said a member of the Jersey Association of Medical Equipment Providers (JAMES), who requested his name not be used for this story. "There is a feeling that we have given up too early and surrendered."

At times during the call, speakers turned nasty toward AAHomecare. VGM President Jim Walsh, who participated in the discussion, said frustration "makes people do strange things."

"I hope AAHomecare doesn't take some of the comments that were made to heart," Walsh said. "There is a tendency when people are backed into a corner to lash out."

An estimated 40 to 50 people, many of them members of various state associations, plugged into the conference call. Initially, organizers hoped the call would generate a committee to explore possible legislative and legal roadblocks to competitive bidding. Instead, it served to clear the air, focusing on what has been done, what hasn't been done and what could be done to derail national competitive bidding, listeners said.

Incoming AAHomecare chairman, Tom Ryan, participated in the call. He said there is almost no chance that Congress will pass legislation this year that addresses competitive bidding. As such, it doesn't make sense for AAHomecare to waste resources on a legislative initiative, he said.

"We hire consultants inside Washington who know better than we do about which way to go about this," Ryan said. "There is some misunderstanding that we are rolling over and not doing anything about this, but we are working with CMS and trying to make some changes to (competitive bidding), so that if it does happen, it's as livable as possible."

That said, AAHomecare believes competitive bidding is bad policy and if an opportunity arises in the future for a legislative fix, "we'll do what we can to make it happen," Ryan said.

In addition to Ryan, AAHomecare had its supporters at the conference call. Those who approve of the association's handling of competitive bidding, say aggressive tactics would be better handled by a group outside AAHomecare. It would be difficult for AAHomecare to adopt such strategies and remain on good terms with key government bureaucrats. The association could, however, play a behind the scene's role in such an effort, say industry watchers.

"I don't think there is room in this debate to speak negatively of AAHomecare's efforts," Walsh said. "I think AAHomecare is doing what we pay them to do. They are telling us what our best avenues are."

Some listeners also criticized JAMES, which helped spearhead the conference call, for not belonging to AAHomecare yet feeling free to criticize it. That's a little bit, they said, like not voting and then bellyaching about an elected official's performance.