Friday, September 30, 2011

Meet the Team: Jay Witter, Senior Director of Government Affairs

Jay Witter is the senior director of government affairs at AAHomecare. He joined the team in the Winter of 2008.

Jay Witter in front of the White HouseJay brings sixteen years of legislative, political, and management experience to AAHomecare, which serves him well in advancing our legislative initiatives on Capitol Hill, as well as coordinating our political activities. His years working on Capitol Hill for several members of the House of Representatives provide valuable knowledge in the legislative and political processes, as well as helping cultivate invaluable relationships on The Hill that assist his lobbying for homecare issues on a daily basis.

Before joining AAHomecare, Jay worked as senior lobbyist for the United American Nurses (UAN), AFL-CIO, and oversaw the organization’s legislative, regulatory, and political policies, procedures and positions. During the 2008 presidential election, Jay worked with a majority of the candidates on pro-nurse policies and initiatives. He was also appointed to Obama’s Health Care Policy Committee, as well as organized a “Nurses for Obama” campaign. Before the UAN, he worked as VP of Government Relations at the American Chiropractic Association and successfully worked with ACA members for the passage of six specific chiropractic bills into law over the six years he worked at the Association.

Jay has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from SUNY Courtland and Masters degree in Public Administration from George Mason University.

Fun Facts
  • Jay, proudly, does not own a Facebook or Google+ page. His reasoning is foreign to those heavily reliant on social media: “I like to build relationships the old fashioned way.”

  • Jay is a fan of all types of music, but claims that grunge music saved rock and roll in the early 1990's and has yet to return to that peak.

  • Jay has been riding motorcycles for 25 years and currently owns a dirt bike and two street bikes, a 1979 Yamaha 750 Special and a 2011 Kawasaki Ninja ZX -10R (1000cc).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Harris Poll Finds Public Supports Increased Access to HME

Americans want the federal government to improve access to HME and invest in home and community based care. And given a number of choices for how to reduce Medicare spending, cutting homecare was their least favored alternative.

These are the results of a survey conducted last week of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S., conducted by Harris Interactive for AAHomecare. The survey was made possible by the Stand Up for Homecare Campaign.

Survey questions included:
“Where should the U.S. government invest the most money to improve health care and cost-effective delivery of care?”
  • Community health clinics (37 percent);
  • Patients’ homes (24 percent);
  • Hospitals (23 percent); and
  • Doctors’ offices (15 percent).
Given four choices for ways the government might cut Medicare spending to help reduce the budget deficit, respondents selected:
  • Raising the premiums high income Medicare recipients have to pay (59 percent);
  • Raising the age people start receiving Medicare benefits (24 percent);
  • Cutting Medicare spending on home medical equipment such as oxygen, wheelchairs, and other equipment and services in their homes (9 percent); and
  • Raising the premiums all Medicare recipients have to pay (9 percent).
Asked whether the federal government should “strengthen access to home medical equipment and services” given its potential to reduce hospital length of stay and healthcare costs, respondents replied:
  • Agree (79 percent);
  • Disagree (11 percent);
  • Not Sure (9 percent).
We will be sharing these results with media and policymakers in Washington. Read the full data results.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do You Know a Homecare Champion?

This Fall, the American Association for Homecare will honor the organization’s first Homecare Champion(s) by presenting an award that recognizes AAHomecare members who have made exceptional contributions to the HME sector. The recipient(s) will receive their honor at the Stand Up for Homecare reception that will take place during Medtrade on Tuesday evening, October 25, in Atlanta.

We are asking for nominations to help us identify those individuals who have had a significant impact on HME issues and who have helped to advance the business of the homecare community.

Some of the attributes to be considered in determining who might be deserving of recognition:
  • Longstanding record of service within the homecare community;
  • Embodiment of the spirit of caring and generosity which are the hallmarks of this profession;
  • High personal integrity; and
  • Membership in the American Association for Homecare and in one or more state organizations.
While the recognition of a Homecare Champion may relate in part to involvement in government affairs, this award is not predominately focused on federal or state government advocacy. We are seeking to honor people who have been involved in various aspects of the business of HME and the care that is an essential component. (Note – in February 2012 at the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference, we will also initiate an award that specifically recognizes leadership in advocacy and government affairs.)

The Homecare Champion recognition will be an ongoing award bestowed upon several deserving individuals every year at Medtrade and Medtrade Spring.

Submitting Nominations
All nominations must be submitted either by mail (address below), fax (703-836-6370) or email ( using the nomination form and must be received on or before 5:00 pm ET on Friday, September 30, 2011.

Anyone involved in the homecare community may submit a nomination.

Nominations should be submitted to:
Homecare Champion Award
Sue Mairena
American Association for Homecare
2011 Crystal Drive, Suite 725
Arlington, VA 22202
Questions about the Homecare Champion recognition and related inquiries should be directed to Sue Mairena at (703) 535-1890 or to

Download the 2011 Homecare Champion Nomination Form

Friday, September 16, 2011

Expansion of Disastrous Medicare Bidding System Costing Jobs, Threatening Patient Care

Dozens of stakeholders from the Triangle’s home medical equipment (HME) industry brought homemade signs and rallied for jobs around the corner from where President Obama touted his jobs bill in North Carolina.

Organized by the North Carolina Association for Medical Equipment Services (NCAMES), the rally was designed to bring attention to the disastrous Medicare bidding system for HME.

Learn more at

The Realities of Wheelchairs and Medicare

Statement by Madonna Long

“The public would be better served if policymakers left their desks in Washington and met with us in our homes, where every day is a struggle.”

I have been in a wheelchair since being severely injured in a school bus accident as a teenager. For many people like me who live full lives with physical disabilities, the durable medical equipment provider who supplies mobility devices is one of the most trusted people in our lives. The equipment and service they provide keep us out of hospitals and nursing homes.

So it’s frustrating to see unfair accusations leveled at these providers. A small group of criminals who have posed as legitimate equipment providers have tainted the reputations of the many dedicated, hard-working wheelchair providers, like the ones I know. The bad guys, who are scamming the Medicare system, aren’t part of the durable medical equipment community; they are criminals who deserve to be locked up.

The media often focuses on the price that Medicare pays to provide power wheelchairs to its beneficiaries, but reporters frequently overlook the fact that the cost of mobility assistance is determined by a patient’s functional needs and the specific equipment and accessories required to address their unique physical conditions. Furthermore, the people who get power wheelchairs from Medicare don’t have them to cruise to the shopping mall. They can’t walk. The power wheelchair brings back their mobility. Oftentimes, it is the difference between living independently and being confined to a nursing home or other care facility.

It has been 30 years since I became a member of the wheelchair club. My life is no joyride. My manual wheelchair is a necessity. When I get out of bed in the morning, it helps me safely begin my day. I have to transfer from the bed to the wheelchair, and with one wrong move and I can fall to the floor, possibly injuring myself. The next challenge is getting dressed. It’s hard to accomplish when sitting in a wheelchair. Then, I must maneuver to the bathroom to groom and to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. None of this would be possible without a wheelchair. All of those tasks are even more difficult for those whose physical limitations require them to use a power wheelchair.

We do not choose to join the wheelchair club. But it’s our reality. We try not to whine about our circumstances because for many of us, it is just the way our life is.

Yet, we hear accusations that providers are delivering power wheelchairs to Medicare beneficiaries who don’t really need them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Data clearly shows that typical Medicare beneficiaries who receive power wheelchair prescriptions from their doctors are 70 years or older and suffer from chronic diseases, like COPD, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. Their physicians have written the prescriptions because the patients need power mobility assistance so they can remain independent in their homes and groom, go to the bathroom, prepare food and do the other daily necessities of life when a walker or manual chair isn’t sufficient.

Wheelchairs are life-changing devices for the people who need them. It’s hard to understand why the federal government continues to add more and more barriers for Medicare beneficiaries to receive power wheelchairs. Over the years, policy changes ranging from reimbursement cuts, the so-called competitive bidding process, elimination of the first-month purchase option and other polices have made it difficult for suppliers to provide quality equipment and services. Surveys indicate that more and more home medical equipment providers are choosing not to sell power wheelchairs because of all the challenges presented by the government.

There must be more consideration of how these policies impact real people and families. As the number of providers decline, so does access to care and equipment, especially in rural areas where small businesses serve wheelchair users who are spread over vast areas.

It’s easy for bureaucrats to pronounce spending on power wheelchairs as “government waste,” even as the devices help to reduce overall healthcare costs and provide Medicare beneficiaries with the ability to live independently in their homes. The public would be better served if policymakers left their desks in Washington and met with us in our homes, where every day is a struggle. In all the congressional hearings on Medicare spending, rarely are the beneficiaries given a voice. What lawmakers would hear is passionate pleas for independence and dignity from some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

We may be overlooked. But we won’t go away. Mobility assistance allows us to embrace the spirit that our nation was built upon – it gives us freedom and independence.

Madonna Long, who has spent decades working on behalf of people living with disabilities, is a consumer advocate for Pride Mobility Products Corp.

Meet the Team: Gordon Barnes, In-House Consultant

Gordon BarnesGordon Barnes is an in-house consultant at AAHomecare. He has worked for the team for several periods since 2007.

Gordon is best known as the Appointment Concierge to attendees of our annual Washington Legislative Conference – setting, confirming and managing hundreds of Capitol Hill appointments for conference attendees. (Put his skills to the test by joining us at the Legislative Conference in DC on Feb. 15-16) He also helps grow AAHomecare’s grassroots advocacy capacity and has a hand in several other communications projects and outreach activities.

Before joining AAHomecare, Gordon worked in public relations, grassroots and online communications roles for the DC-based PR firm Burson-Marsteller, the American Gas Association, the American Forest and Paper Association and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He is a graduate of the University of Virginia, majoring in English.

Fun Facts
  • Gordon lives in a townhouse in nearby Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, that was built in 1824, which he has been restoring for the better part of a decade. He does not particularly recommend this hobby for people who value their money or mental health.

  • Speaking of often-frustrating hobbies: Gordon is a long-time Washington Redskins fan.

  • Gordon attended the wedding of Wheel of Fortune grandee Pat Sajak (friend of bride’s family) and swears he is somewhere in the background in People magazine photos. He recalls that Vanna White seemed tiny in person.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Low Bids for Home-Based Care: A Threat to Independence

By Kelly Buckland, Executive Director
National Council on Independent Living

While there is much debate about controlling costs and improving quality in our healthcare system, you don’t hear much about one simple way to achieve both: preserve access to good home-based care and equipment.

Home medical equipment and services, such as wheelchairs, oxygen therapy, and other types of durable medical equipment, are essential to the safety, health, and independence of several million Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare covers seniors and people living with disabilities.

Like everyone else, people living with disabilities want to live independent and healthy lives. I know this because I am a person living with a disability. I have relied on my power wheelchair for mobility for more than 40 years, and I know the importance of having a well-functioning wheelchair that meets my physical needs and preserves my ability to live independently.

However, the agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), seems to have overlooked many of these basic facts when they designed a “competitive” bidding program for home medical equipment. This bidding program, which CMS claims works in the best interest of Medicare beneficiaries, actually does the exact opposite. As the executive director at the National Council on Independent Living, I feel it is important to highlight some of the troubling features of this program.

The bidding program applies to commonly used equipment and services, such as oxygen therapy, enteral nutrients (tube feeding), continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) and respiratory assistive devices, power wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds and support surfaces, and mail-order diabetic supplies. By design, this bidding program dramatically limits the number of home medical providers allowed to provide the bid-upon equipment and supplies. This complicates and slows down the process of discharging people from a costly hospital stay to far less-expensive—and beneficiary -preferred--home-based services. The program also makes it harder to obtain required equipment and services. Ultimately, this steep reduction in providers also stifles rather than promotes competition.

The program began on January 1 in an initial round of nine metropolitan areas – Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City, Miami, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Riverside, California. It will spread to another 91 areas beginning later this year. However, in the first nine areas alone, hundreds of Medicare beneficiaries have already reported difficulty finding local equipment or a service provider, delays in obtaining medically required equipment and services, and reduced quality of care and products.

This is no surprise to those of us in the independent living community who have known about the numerous flaws in the CMS bidding system. Nor is it a surprise to the 167 economists and auction experts who called the design of the system inherently flawed because it encourages irresponsible bids and unsustainably low prices.

The solution is H.R. 1041, a bipartisan bill in Congress that would repeal this misguided and flawed bidding program. In addition to the National Council on Independent Living, many other advocacy organizations support this legislation. Those organizations include the ALS Association, the Brain Injury Association of America, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the International Ventilator Users Network, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Emphysema and COPD Association, the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and United Spinal Association, to name a few. The bill also has strong support from 150 Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Everyone agrees that we need to contain healthcare costs. But we must also ensure that Americans with disabilities can continue to get the equipment and services they need in order to remain independent in the one setting that is both cost-effective and preferred – our own homes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Meet the Team: Alex Bennewith, Senior Manager of Government Affairs

Alex Bennewith is the senior manager of government affairs for AAHomecare. She has been with the team for more than four years.

Alex advocates for members on legislative and regulatory affairs with Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Food and Drug Administration. She also develops partnerships with disability and consumer advocacy organizations that work with us on competitive bidding and other homecare issues.

Alex went to Brandeis University for her undergraduate degree in politics and Latin, and obtained her master’s in public administration at American University. Before joining AAHomecare, Alex lobbied Congress for consumer groups and before that held business development and account management positions at public affairs businesses, lobbying firms and financial consulting companies.

Fun Facts
  • Alex practices martial arts training with her husband, including boxing and muay thai.
  • Legit et scribit linguas Latinam et Graecam. (Need a translator?)
  • Alex likes to eat marmite sandwiches. Extra points to anyone who knows what that is!