Budget Reconciliation Bill Vote Set for Feb. 1
WASHINGTON--Providers have until the end of the month to lobby against legislation that would cap oxygen rentals at 36 months.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has tentatively scheduled a Feb. 1 vote for the 2006 federal budget reconciliation bill, which contains capped rental provisions for oxygen as well as other DME (see HomeCare Monday, Jan. 9). The bill contains $39.7 billion in spending reductions, with $6.4 billion in savings from Medicare and $4.8 billion from Medicaid over five years.
Since Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., unexpectedly inserted the oxygen capped rental provision into the bill on Dec. 18, providers have been fighting back, using the winter recess to contact legislators about its consequences. HME advocates point out that if the titles for oxygen equipment are transferred to beneficiaries after 36 months, providers will no longer have the ability to service and maintain that equipment, and patients who may not be able to care for their own equipment could be put in danger.
The Senate voted 51-50 to approve the budget reconciliation bill on Dec. 21. Although the House had approved it with the capped rental provision intact a few days prior, it must vote on the measure again because of modifications that were made by the Senate. According to CongressDaily, House Republicans are expected to "narrowly approve" the bill again.
But the HME industry has not given up. Shawn M. Steffey, a respiratory therapist with Respiratory Care Associates, Winchester, Va., said the company sent more than 400 letters to beneficiaries regarding the measure, the American Association for Homecare reported. As a result, "we are receiving three to five calls per hour from patients either asking for more information about what to say to their congressman or to tell us that they have called," Steffey told AAHomecare.
"I am estimating that at least 50 to 75 of our patients have called their congressman in the past three days. Imagine the result if every member did the same thing. I truly believe that if we can defeat this bill, it will only be through the voices of our patients."
Opposition to the budget bill also may be boosted by AARP, which doesn't like provisions that would make it more difficult for seniors to transfer assets in order to be eligible for nursing home benefits under Medicaid. In response, the 36 million-member association is rolling out ad campaigns against the measure.