Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Senate Passes Final Bill with No Cuts to Homecare; House Expected to Follow Suit

This year’s final Medicare bill, which passed in the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent and was voted on in the House of Representatives today, does not contain any provisions relating to oxygen or wheelchairs.

The final compromise is a stripped-down bill that provides a short six-month“fix”to the reimbursement cut for doctors that was scheduled to take effect in January of 2008. The bill replaces replaces the scheduled 10 percent cut to Medicare reimbursement for physicians with a 0.5 percent increase through June 30, 2008.

Once the President passes this bill, as expected, the home medical equipment industry will have scored at least a temporary victory with respect to oxygen cuts and the elimination of the first-month purchase option for wheelchairs. Unfortunately there is also no language either addressing the industry’s concerns about competitive bidding or repealing the current transfer of ownership of oxygen equipment.

The passage of this scaled-down bill will give homecare advocates some breathing room to present arguments for preserving or strengthening homecare policies under Medicare before Congress returns inevitably to the same issues again next year. With respect to that process, the AAHomecare Washington Leadership Conference will occur at an opportune time next year, March 4-6, 2008.

The American Association for Homecare thanks all of the many providers, state associations, patient organizations, manufacturers, buying groups, and other stakeholders who have worked hard over the past 12 months to inform Congress about the importance of homecare. We will continue to report developments as they occur.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Medicare Oxygen Benefit Letter to NYTimes Editor

Below is a letter to the editor published in today’s New York Times responding to the recently published article on home oxygen therapy.
Medicare Oxygen Benefit
Published: December 7, 2007
To the Editor:

Golden Opportunities: Oxygen Suppliers Fight to Keep a Medicare Boon (November 30, 2007)

Your Nov. 30 front-page article “Oxygen Suppliers Fight to Keep a Medicare Boon” misses the most salient points in the debate over Medicare home oxygen therapy.

While the article focused on oxygen therapy as merely equipment rental, it is in fact a highly regulated, prescribed medical treatment. Patients require not only equipment but also corresponding services that are essential in ensuring that they benefit from the therapy as prescribed and effectively manage their incurable lung disease.

Used properly, government data demonstrate that oxygen therapy reduces the frequency and duration of hospitalizations, resulting in program savings of hundreds of millions of dollars, while allowing patients suffering from severe lung disease to remain stable at home.

When analyzing Medicare policy for home oxygen therapy, it is critical that policy makers and the oxygen therapy community work together toward thoughtful reforms that balance appropriate Medicare financing with the intensive service needs of this vulnerable patient population.

Peter Kelly
Novato, Calif., Dec. 3, 2007

The writer is chairman of the Council for Quality Respiratory Care, a group of the nation’s leading home oxygen therapy providers and manufacturers, representing a majority of the more than one million Medicare patients who depend on the home oxygen benefit for their care.