The VGM Government Relations team is committed to the success of the HME Industry, and we will continue to fight for policies that protect your business and quality care for Americans. This special edition of Connect was created to inform you of our efforts to collaborate with HME providers and industry leaders to ensure our industry voice is heard. Many thanks to all of those who have attended a presentation, messaged a member of Congress or who have attended a meeting in person in your home district or in Washington, D.C. You have made a difference.
By: Beth Cox Hollingsworth, VGM Marketing
Summer mornings are turning cool in Dyersville, Iowa, where John Gallagher rises at 3 a.m. to catch the first flight out of Cedar Rapids. As his 2006 Nissan traverses the rolling Iowa cornfields, he prepares mentally for the week ahead. First, a meeting with the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Washington, D.C., where he hopes the organization known for taking on the Affordable Care Act in court will adopt our HME issues as theirs. A day later he will be off to the AZMESA state association conference in Phoenix for his 12th presentation to HME providers this year.
Audits and the nationwide rollout of competitive bidding are still at the top of his docket. In addition is the fight to remove complex rehab technology accessory items from the competitive bidding program. In his 13th year of educating and advocating for policies favorable to HME business, he recognizes that things have changed. “HME providers who have worked hard to be active in the legislative process have elevated our issues. Legislators understand the issue and we’re able to focus on anecdotes and data that proves that HME care and service are vital to Americans,” comments Gallagher.
Meanwhile, team member Tom Powers, a retired firefighter and 30-year veteran of federal and state-level politics is manning the Iowa political scene this week and Missouri next. Iowa’s governor Terry Branstad recently hired a new chief of staff, which is cause for a meeting to re-acquaint and once again bring our issues to the forefront of the governor’s administrative team. “Staying in front of key decision makers and influencers is a busy job. As Tip O’Neill said, ‘all politics is local.’ I’ll add that ‘all health care is local’ too. The grassroots of small businesses and patient health is where these policies have an impact, so that’s where we want to be,” added Powers.
Coaching HME Providers to Influence Legislative Change
As Gallagher and Powers crisscross the country, the team at VGM headquarters organizes the August of Action, a campaign to encourage HME and CRT providers to meet with legislators at home during August recess. Don Jones of Southern Medical Equipment participated in August of Action at an event with Rep. Gary Palmer on Aug. 8. “His message to us was to persevere. He asked us to let him know as soon as Congressman Price has an update on a bill and gave us direct contact information for his legislative director to provide updates,” commented Jones.
Prior to the meeting, Jones participated in a coaching conference call with the government relations team during which he received talking points and advice for the event. “VGM has been a big help. They scheduled appointments and follow-ups, and provided talking points and a NCB summary page.” Currently the government relations team has helped schedule 30 meetings throughout the country, offering support to each of them as needed.
Targeting the Right Decision Makers
With 535 U.S. senators and representatives nationwide, the team targets key legislators with committee leadership roles. “We count on our relationship with AAHomecare to make this all possible. They have access to important Washington offices, and we spend the majority of time tackling the grassroots with providers in their districts,” commented Gallagher. “Ranking members of Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, Budget and Senate Finance committees take priority, with additional importance given to those in rural areas that could slow down the nationwide rollout of competitive bidding.”
Another powerful ally, the Small Business Administration, advocates for small businesses that face unfair regulatory enforcement actions, and recently hosted a hearing in Montana to discuss audits and competitive bidding. “Our goal for these events is to do everything we can to help the process. In this case we rallied the troops to them there and coached them about what to expect,” commented Gallagher.
Andrew Jeske, CEO of American Seating & Mobility, testified in the hearing that he was recently notified of an ALJ meeting for an appeal he filed in September 2012. “These unreasonable and excessive audits from CMS are crippling to durable medical equipment providers in Montana. Audits are holding up revenue, for multiple years in most cases, that is crucial to the survival of rural providers.” The last reported figure of backlogged appeals by CMS was over 870,000.
On competitive bidding, Mike Calcaterra, the Montana chairman of Big Sky AMES testified, “These cuts are already putting rural providers in an especially challenging position. We face much different obligations than metropolitan areas. Fueling an SUV for an oxygen tank delivery that is 75 miles one-way is unsustainable with the proposed cuts. We are confident the SBA will advocate on behalf of small businesses to support our industry.”
Energizing provider and state association participation fuels Gallagher and Powers when they spend weeks away from the office and home. They recognize legislative action as the result of many moving parts, and measuring success in the interim can only come from one valuable relationship built at a time. By the end of a typical week, Gallagher makes it back to the Cedar Rapids airport, having shaken many hands through many time zones. He gets back into the familiar Nissan, decked with a Notre Dame window sticker and 230,000 miles. Time to refuel for the next adventure.
This is the first of a series of stories highlighting the partnership between VGM Government Relations team and HME providers.
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