VGM punches back at Bill Thomas

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - The VGM Group orchestrated a rally in late January outside the office of Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., the man long considered the industry's arch nemesis.
Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Jan. 24, nearly 50 picketers paraded outside Thomas' office here, carrying signs that read: No two-tiered health care, No oxygen cuts, Support America's seniors and Please listen.
"(VGM CEO Van Miller) equated Bill Thomas to the bully syndrome," said John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations. "If the bully keeps thinking he can knock you down, he'll keep knocking you down. If you hit him back, he'll go somewhere else, and that is what we are doing."
Thomas has been a leading architect behind many Medicare cuts to DME reimbursement. Most recently, he inserted language into the just passed deficit reduction bill that caps oxygen reimbursement at 36 months and transfers title of the equipment to the beneficiary at that time. VGM and many other industry leaders say the cap would endanger beneficiaries who have no expertise in maintaining the equipment.
Last Chance for Patients Choice, a VGM initiated nonprofit group that lobbies for industry interests, organized the rally. It also ran a commercial in the Bakersfield area that urged viewers to call Thomas and ask him to explain the Medicare cuts.
Local network affiliates covered the picket, and Gallagher appeared on a local conservative talk show to discuss it.
"Some who know D.C. will say this isn't going to get you anywhere, being confrontational and getting congressmen mad at you," said Jim Walsh, the president of VGM Management, Ltd., and general counsel to The VGM Group. "I might say, 'They might be right, but the nice way isn't working. We can't keep waiting.'"
VGM called the Bakersfield demonstration the "first national effort to raise awareness by Last Chance for Patient Choice, but it will not be the last. Other rallies and media campaigns are planned."
"If we start getting the ears of people who before thought that we were only a punching bag, I think the beneficiary wins and the industry wins," Gallagher said.