Legislation & Regulation
The Campaign for HME
HME providers face a delicate task this election season. Amid intense partisanship, they must educate politicians of all ideologies about the value home medical equipment brings to the government, along with Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. A fix for competitive bidding remains the most important message to deliver, but that is a complex issue requiring thoughtful communication skills.
Personal involvement is the key to political success for HME, according to Cara Bachenheimer, vice president of government relations for Invacare Corp. “It all starts with building and developing relationships,” she says. “You can’t put a dollar value on having an effective relationship with a legislator at the state or federal level.”
There are many ways to build relationships with policymakers. Providers can attend fundraisers, participate in campaign forums, visit a legislative office, or play a political card that is perhaps the most effective way to promote industry views—invite a candidate to an HME business for a personal tour.
But before organizing such a tour, consider the mindset required to traverse the tough partisan terrain that surrounds many politicians during a presidential election year.
Crossing Political Boundaries
Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare), says good policy for the HME industry does not depend upon partisan politics. “We have supporters on both sides of the aisle, and we have detractors on both sides of the aisle,” he says. “Competitive bidding is a classic issue. It was enacted by a Republican Congress, and it is being implemented by a Democratic administration. Our challenge crosses the political spectrum. We’re going to have to cobble together a bipartisan coalition that realizes we’re the solution, not the problem.”
Focus on policies instead of politics. “Reasonable people should be able to agree what policies should be in place to support a robust, vibrant home medical equipment industry,’’ Wilson says. “The reason you want to do that is so providers can provide good service and strong products to beneficiaries, which is a population that is in great need.”
Rob Brandt, board president of the American Medical Equipment Providers of America (AMEPA), says that he separates personal political beliefs from professional political action. Sure, vote your personal beliefs, but support candidates who are supporting the HME industry. It’s possible to plug personal political beliefs in the process. “If it’s a congressman who has helped our industry, I would always support them. I’d say to them, ‘I might not support your politics, but I appreciate you supporting the DME industry. I’ll support you any way I can.’”
Oddly, sometimes the higher one goes in the in the political spectrum, the more difficult it becomes to have an impact on HME policies in government, Brandt says. For example, the president of the United States often gets involved with big decisions on important programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but seldom deals with all the rules and regulations that can make or break the HME industry.
When President Obama was first elected, some people thought it would benefit the HME industry because providers had developed good relationships with a top Obama advisor, Rahm Emanuel, who had been a congressman in Chicago. “He was accessible as a congressman,” Brandt says, “but that accessibility left when he became White House chief of staff.”
Bachenheimer suggests keeping politics local and reaching out to officials with an actual stake in the area. “A lot of times you think ‘I’ve got to go to D.C. and meet all the big people,’ but that’s probably the last thing you should be doing. You probably can be a lot more effective developing those relationships at the local level. Invite those folks to businesses and get them to understand what a company does so that policymakers know what’s going on in their community.”