VGM takes gloves off

Sunday, October 23, 2005

WATERLOO, Iowa - The VGM Group announced an aggressive campaign last week to stop competitive bidding by contributing $50,000 to a non-profit group it created to lobby against the Medicare reimbursement cut scheduled for 2007.

"We don't know if we are going to accomplish anything, but so far no one has accomplished much," said Jim Walsh, president of VGM management. "After three years of intense industry efforts, we still ended up with competitive bidding, and we have been unable to alter the course of the law since it was passed. We are not unhappy with the industry's efforts; everyone is trying. It is just not working."

VGM has named its non-profit group Last Chance for Patient's Choice. Technically, the effort is a 527 not-for-profit organization. The Internal Revenue code allows 527s to engage in educational, information and advocacy activities; 527s cannot campaign against a particular candidate.

Last Chance for Patients Choice plans to target congressional districts represented by congressmen like Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. who supported competitive bidding, Walsh said.

In those districts, VGM will mount informational campaigns designed to educate voters on how competitive bidding will drive independent HMEs out of business and deprive beneficiaries of choice and quality care, Walsh said.

"It may turn out that those congressmen don't care," Walsh said. "They've never voted for us in the past, but if nothing else it may make them explain to their constituencies why they are doing this."
VGM is still working on its educational ads, Walsh said, but a typical TV spot might go something like this: An elderly woman is lying in a nursing home bed and just outside the door a son or daughter says: "She could have stayed home, but we couldn't get service. Is this anyway to save government money? I wonder if my congressman knows what is happening."

VGM also will try to partner with organizations likely to be future targets of competitive bidding, and beneficiary groups that could be adversely affected by competitive bidding, such as the American Diabetes Association.

"Someone who knows D.C. will say this isn't going to get you anywhere, being confrontational and getting congressmen mad at you," Walsh said. "I might say, 'You may be right, but your way isn't working, and it is too close.' We can't keep waiting. We've got to try everything we can."