Summer's over, it's back to work

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WASHINGTON - With the lazy days of summer over and Congress back in session, HME stakeholders should get busy talking with lawmakers on industry issues, stakeholders say.

Lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C., last week for the first time since a bruising battle over the federal budget in August, and all eyes are on the 12-member Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. The committee is tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in cuts over 10 years by Thanksgiving, so that Congress can vote on it by the end of the year. Otherwise, $1.2 trillion in cuts will go into effect, including an across-the-board cut to all Medicare payments.

"Every Medicare provider is potentially on the chopping block," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "There's a lot of pressure on those 12 members, and there's a lot of voices out there. We will need to re-double and re-triple our efforts."

That means focusing on members of three key committees: the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"They are already beginning to provide their suggestions to the deficit committee as to areas where they may want to cut," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility. "The main thing we are encouraging providers to do is just to get in front of their legislators and talk about the impact on their company."

That impact includes the potential for job loss, said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group.

"We've already sustained a 9.5% cut," he said. "And (under competitive bidding), there's another 32%. It's putting people out of business. The message has got to be jobs, jobs, jobs."

Meanwhile, the industry continues to gather support for H.R. 1041, the bill to repeal competitive bidding. Last week, it picked up five new co-sponsors for a total of 150. On the Senate side, however, the industry is struggling to gain traction.

"It's really difficult," said Bachenheimer. "Anything with a cost is not going to be met with smiles and receptivity."