This year's conference sees progress through unity

More than 150 HME leaders gathered at the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference, May 20-21, 2015, to stand together and educate Congress about the issues impacting HME.

Consumer Groups Bring Their Perspective to the WLC

The Washington Legislative Conference brings together perspectives from across the spectrum to inform the debate around HME issues. New this year at the conference was a panel discussion featuring leaders from consumer groups that AAHomecare frequently collaborates with. The panel featured:

• Alexandra Bennewith, MPA, Vice President, Government Relations, United Spinal Association

• Aimee Bulthuis, Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, COPD Foundation

• Kelly Buckland, Executive Director, The National Council on Independent Living

• Madonna Long, Consumer Advocate, Pride Mobility Products

• Patrick Wildman, Vice President, Public Policy, The ALS Association

• Moderator: Anna McDevitt, Laboratory Tactical Consulting and Save My Medical Supplies

Congress and CMS Bring Heavyweight Speakers

AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference attendees got exclusive access to big names that are directly impacting homecare policy.

• Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota

• Congressman Ron Kind from Wisconsin

• Congressman Bill Keating from Massachusetts

• Dr. Rahul Rajkumar, Deputy Director at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

In Their Own Words—Perspective from WLC Attendees

Providers such as Jim Spellman, director of Operations, Homecare Medical, New Berlin, Wisconsin, started paying attention to politics shortly after passage of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003, and back then he made it a point to attend the first of many Legislative Conferences. Upon returning from the 2015 Conference, Spellman is convinced that the time spent building relationships can only help providers in the future.

“When I get back from Washington, people ask, ‘How was the trip?’ and I don’t have tangible results to show for my efforts,” he says. “It typically happens weeks and months later when legislation is introduced, and then we get the member to sign on and support what we are asking them to support. That’s where the results come.”

Delayed gratification is not the easiest sell, but Spellman is quick to point out that AAHomecare streamlines planning by taking care of all the scheduling, and even adds of dose of welcome encouragement. “AAHomecare does a great job of putting this conference together, and getting speakers from CMS and members of Congress who encourage us to continue doing what we are doing,” he says. “They are very inspiring. It’s refreshing for me to know that what we do makes a difference. Members of Congress appreciate what we do.”

Patrick Naeger, executive vice president and owner, Healthcare Equipment and Supply Company, Perryville, Missouri, agrees that making the case in person, whenever possible, is worth the trip.

“Legislators need to hear how CMS affects us and burdens us, and nothing beats a face-to-face encounter,” he says. “Without exception, members of Congress and staff appreciate you traveling all the way to DC. It’s a responsibility to your business, your employees, and your patients to engage. If you can’t make it here because of the financial burden, then make sure you’re making the calls and sending emails from home.”

To make the message even more powerful, Naeger believes AAHomecare should continue its efforts to engage other patient advocacy groups—even taking members of these groups on legislative visits. “It could be spinal cord groups, COPD folks, or any other advocacy group representing patients with injuries or illnesses who need the products and services we offer,” he says. “We need to get these groups beating the drum and making calls on our behalf. They can say, ‘We want to choose our home care providers. We like our local company, and what you’re doing is going to undermine our ability to get the products and services we need.’ That’s going to be our best hope.”

It’s not inexpensive to make the 2,000-mile trip to Washington, DC, but Colorado-based Douglas E. Coleman, CEO of Rocky Mountain Medical Equipment LLC, believes the cost of not going is far too high.

For those who don’t share his passion, the long-time AAHomecare Legislative Conference attendee agrees that progress can also be made closer to home. “If you can’t go to Capitol Hill, establish a relationship locally when legislators are back home in their districts,” says Coleman, who also heads Major Medical Supply LLC, and serves as vice president of the Colorado Association for Medical Equipment Services. “We need more contact from more people.”

More people add up to more relationships and more clout, all of which may be crucial in the coming months as advocates seek to educate lawmakers about prior approval for power mobility, as well as the competitive bidding expansion. Coleman tried to make his legislators see the folly of expanding a program with demonstrated problems, and he believes they mostly got the message.

“I tried to explain that CMS is doubling down on a flawed program in rolling out prices that were set with flawed methodology, to rural areas where providers have no opportunity for increased volume—which is insane,” laments Coleman. “It seemed like most people understood that, but without some specific piece of legislation to react to, it was really an educational session.

“The second thing I talked about was the potential [in the president’s budget] of using Medicare competitive bid rates for state Medicaid programs,” adds Coleman. “So instead of doubling down, we would be tripling down on flawed pricing methodology.”

Joey Tart, president and co-founder of Family Medical Supply, Dunn, North Carolina, had a particularly fruitful meeting with staff members who work with Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), a known friend of the HME industry.

“They understand our industry,” says Tart. “Overall, the perception of the industry, among legislators, has improved. A lot of it has to do with AAHomecare, and what the organization is doing with CMS. Tom Ryan is doing an excellent job. Kim Brummett has brought a lot to the table. Jay Witter went on one of our meetings, and it was a great asset having him there. But all of the staff members have done a good job, and you can’t leave any of them out.”

The Mal Mixon Legislative Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award

The highlight of the conference was the reception in honor of Invacare founder Mal Mixon, as AAHomecare presented Mal with the Legislative Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award.

A long list of illustrious friends came out to honor Mal, including Senator Portman and Congressman Tiberi. Speaker John Boehner, a longtime friend of Mal, sent in a surprise video message to play at the reception.

Going forward, the annual Legislative Advocate Award will be named the Mal Mixon Legislative Advocate Award in his honor.

AAHomecare Chairmanship Changes Hands

The entire AAHomecare staff would like to thank Robert Steedley, president of Barnes Healthcare Services, for his incredible leadership and service to this association and this industry during his term as our Chairman of the Board for the last two years.

Steedley’s parting words: “This association is powerful. Our numbers may be small, but our mission is huge, and we’re poised to be successful.”

Steedley handed over the reins to incoming chair John Letizia, formerly vice chairman of AAHomecare’s board president and president of Laurel Medical Solutions in Ebensburg, Penn., during the conference.

“I wasn’t always involved,” said Letizia. “I always assumed someone was representing our interests. Then one day I realized that person was me…at AAHomecare, each company and every voice matters, large and small. I’m a small provider standing here today as proof of that.”