Complex rehab stakeholders make their case

The big question: What will get done by an ‘overwhelmed’ Congress?
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Friday, April 28, 2017

ARLINGTON, Va. – The amount of work that needs to get done in Congress this year may be a double-edged sword for complex rehab stakeholders, lobbyists say.

While the chaos could make it difficult for stakeholders to get heard, it could also provide a number of legislative vehicles for their issues, lobbyists told attendees at the National CRT Conference on April 26, after outlining the myriad goals of President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, including repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, and implementing tax reform.

“If you’re exhausted and confused, you’re not alone,” said Amy Cunniffe, principal of the Washington Council at Ernst & Young. “How they are going to achieve all the objectives required by law and those that the administration strongly desires to achieve in the time available to Congress—you’re going to see a lot of overwhelmed faces (during your lobbying visits to the Hill). But there are potentially pieces of legislation that are going to move through the process and could serve as vehicles.”

At the top of the list of what stakeholders want to get done: pass legislation before July 1 that permanently staves off Medicare’s plans to apply competitive bidding-related pricing to accessories for complex rehab wheelchairs. Congress in December temporarily delayed the change from Jan. 1, 2017, to July 1, 2017.

To make their case, stakeholders on April 27 conducted visits with more than 245 congressional offices, representing 35 states. Those stakeholders included 30 wheelchair users, who provided a first-person perspective.

“We’ve gotten very positive feedback from initial reports,” said Don Clayback, executive director of NCART, which hosted the event with NRRTS. “Attendees will be following up with their members over the next week to secure (support).”

Longer term, however, stakeholders must also protect the complex rehab benefit, in general, amidst continuing discussions around funding to keep the government open and upcoming discussions around budgeting for 2018, lobbyists say.

“We’re building toward a very busy fall, where a lot of legislation will be moving, and will involve spending and will likely require spending offsets,” said Sarah Egge, senior manager of the Washington Council at Ernst & Young. “That’s something to keep an eye out for.”

Another possibility that may play out: Congress spending a lot of time spinning its wheels, especially when it comes to repealing and replacing the ACA, lobbyists say.

“That may be a bridge too far to cross for some,” said Eric Gascho, vice president of government affairs for the National Health Council, of the appetite of some Republicans to support the president’s and the party’s plans for an alternative to the ACA, amid what lobbyists point out is the exchange’s highest popularity rate in years.

One thing working in the favor of stakeholders is Tom Price at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services. But it takes time, lobbyists point out, to staff up a department and that timing may be an issue.

“We’re advocating to them that (relief for accessories) needs to happen sooner rather than later,” Cunniffe said, “because the deadline is quickly approaching.”