The HME industry has arrived

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12/03/2007

I received an interesting email Friday in regards to the story in the New York Times, “Golden Opportunities: Oxygen Suppliers Fight to Keep a Medicare Boon.” If you haven’t read it, the Nov. 30 story is a long, biased article on how Medicare pays too much—according to the industry’s critics—for home respiratory therapy. To think that the New York Times would publish such a dumbed-down, unbalanced account of what really happens inside the HME industry really surprises me. But maybe is shouldn’t. This wouldn’t be the first time a Times reporter wrote fiction masquerading as objective, factual reporting. Remember Jayson Blair? This once venerable paper does not have the credibility it had 10 or 15 years ago, and the industry should not fail to point that out.

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Anyways, I digress. Here’s what the email said:

“In a strange way, this negative article planted by our opponents and the high level of attention and effort we are receiving in DC is actually a misdirected compliment to us as an industry. Only after long and consistent grass roots lobbying combined with traditional lobby work have we finally made an impression in DC. Five to seven years ago we barely got much response on the hill. Now look at us...this article makes us sound a more powerful lobby then tobacco or the teacher's lobby.”

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Well said. Can you believe that over the past two months both National Public Radio and the New York Times have devoted significant coverage to the tiny HME industry? Unfortunately, a lot of that coverage has been bad, focusing on fraud and abuse and the perception that Medicare pays way too much for home oxygen.

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The Death and Life of Bobby Z video Nevertheless, the fact that opponents have gone to such lengths to smear HME providers says much about the industry’s lobbying and grassroots advocacy efforts. The people who have taken part in these efforts have done a very good job. It’s thanks to them that the HME industry has arrived as a player in the healthcare continuum. If you are not a player, a threat to other special interests, you don't turn up on the front page of the New York Times.

As bad and misleading as the Times story was, it also presents an opportunity to set the record straight. These kinds of articles spur debate, and don’t come around too often.

The key now is to hit back hard: keep the story alive but spin it to the industry’s advantage. Remember what happened to John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election? He got smeared over his service record in Vietnam, took his time returning fire, and never recovered.

If the industry can find some way to seize the day—to use the Times' story to convince legislators and the public that HME/homecare is part of the healthcare answer and not some shadowy villain—this could get interesting.