States lash out at AAHomecare

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

WASHINGTON -- A group of angry state association members from around the country conducted a conference April 28 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 Jeresy Association of Medical Equipment Providers (JAMES) who asked not to be identified. "There is a feeling that we have given up too early and surrendered."
At times during the call, speakers turned bitter 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."
The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 mandated that CMS roll out competitive bidding in 10 of the largest metropolitan statistical areas in 2007, and expand the program in 2009.
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 that 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, Ryan 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 during 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, they say.
"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. The state association, which doesn't belong to AAHomecare, helped spearhead the conference and has been outspokenly critical of AAHomecare's efforts to deal with competitive bidding. That's a little bit, said some industry watchers, like not voting and then bellyaching about an elected official's performance.