Tom Coogan: provider, political activist

Friday, September 30, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. - Tom Coogan hopes the third time's a charm, but if it's not, he'll try as many times as it takes to make all durable medical equipment exempt from Washington's state sales tax.
"This is my dying cause," said Coogan, vice president of Care Medical, which is based here but has branches in Washington, too. "Most people are quiet after their dreams don't come true, but I'm going after this with a vengeance year after year, legislature after legislature, until it's passed."
When the state legislature convenes on Jan. 1, representatives will pick up H.R. 2047, a bill that has seen three incarnations over a span of six years, with Coogan the face behind them all. Right now DME like home oxygen is tax exempt but other equipment like nebulizers are not.
Coogan, backed by the Pacific Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers, wants to eliminate the sales tax for all DME to help consumers who have no choice but to buy cheap insurance plans. The plans, more often than not, don't cover DME, leaving consumers to pay for walkers and even power wheelchairs out of pocket.
"This isn't to relieve the provider," he said. "This is to relieve consumers who are already overwrought with expenses."
Eliminating the sales tax, which varies from 8.6% to 8.9%, would put more than $1 million back into the pockets of consumers and Medicaid itself, because the program also pays sales tax. That's what the state says is the fiscal impact of the bill.
With the extra cash, consumers could "buy up" to an insurance plan that covers DME, Coogan said.
Unlike previous years, the bill now has bi-partisan support. Coogan is also optimistic for 2006 because, as a member of PAMES, he's high off a win in neighboring Washington that kept a proposed 20% cut in DME reimbursement within the walls of the state capitol.
To boot, Oregon's financial outlook is looking a lot quieter.
"First, there was 2000, when all of our (state) investments went to the dump," he said. "Then there was 9/11 in 2001 and an earthquake in 2002. Every time we've been up to the podium, it was a time when anything that reduced the state's amount of revenue wasn't looked at very favorably."
If all of that isn't enough to make the stars align, the bill coincides with an effort to streamline reimbursement. To add elbow grease, Coogan will hit the campaign trail this fall and winter to drum up support.