Washington update: Daschle departs, task force takes shape

Sunday, February 8, 2009

WASHINGTON -Tom Daschle's decision to withdraw his nomination for Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary is a setback, but the industry will "roll with the punches."

"Daschle had a good understanding of the value of home care and would have brought that perspective to the job," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "However, we all have good contacts in Washington, and we'll be working to advance homecare's goals with any new appointee."

Daschle, under scrutiny for his failure to pay more than $120,000 in taxes, withdrew his nomination last week. The former Senate majority leader also stepped down from his position as White House healthcare czar.

Some industry sources believe Daschle's departure will make it harder for the Obama administration to overhaul health care in the near future.

"Daschle was well liked on both sides of the aisle," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. "He had the stature to move legislation forward."

The HME industry has also lost some momentum, Gallagher acknowledged, because Daschle was aware of its concerns, namely national competitive bidding and the 36-month oxygen cap.

"It's not that he would have necessarily acted on them," he said. "But he would have already been on top of competitive bidding and the oxygen issues, as far as what the impact would be, particularly in rural America."

The big question now: Who will replace Daschle? Industry stakeholders, as well as Washington insiders, were buzzing last week about possible nominees. One of those nominees, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., understands that competitive bidding is bad public policy and detrimental to beneficiaries, Gallagher said.

"She was one of the first that came out against competitive bidding, saying, 'I understand my mother may now have three different providers, based on who won bids, to take care of her when really one provider would do an excellent job,'" he said.

Others are putting their money on Dr. Jeanne Lambrew, who co-authored a book about healthcare reform with Daschle. Obama named Lambrew deputy director of the White House Office of Health Reform.

"She's in a lower level position, but it's related to reform efforts," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

No matter who replaces Daschle, the industry must continue to find ways to work with the new administration, sources say.

"We have to move forward and deal with the cards we've been dealt," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "We want to work with the administration to improve some of these regulations that CMS has put through."

Task force to shape healthcare reform

WASHINGTON - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have formed a new task force to tackle healthcare reform legislation. Several members of the task force have advocated for patients and providers of HME, including Tom Price, R-Ga. Other members of the task force: Joe Barton, R-Texas; Judy Biggert, R-Ill.; Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla.; Charles Boustany, R-La.; Michael Burgess, R-Texas; Dave Camp, R-Mich.; Nathan Deal, R-Ga.; Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.; Wally Herger, R-Calif.; Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan.; Howard McKeon, R-Calif.; Tim Murphy, R-Pa.; Paul Ryan, R-Wis.; John Shadegg, R-Ariz.; and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who will serve as chairman.