'Our credibility is at an all-time high'

Friday, January 23, 2015

As the chairman of the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare) board of directors, I can assure you that there was no downtime for the association over the holidays and its activity has certainly not eased into 2015. AAHomecare is well aware of the ticking clock on the bidding program and has not let up for one second since the 113th Congress ended. 

As we look ahead at the next year, AAHomecare is already driving change across the entire legislative and regulatory landscape on issues such as competitive bidding, audits, prior authorizations and a separate benefit for complex rehabilitation technology items.

Thanks to the hard work of HME providers, AAHomecare members and association state leaders, our credibility with influential committees is at an all-time high and our champions in Congress are stronger than ever.

The strong bipartisan support generated for binding bid legislation in 2014, as well as the last minute introduction of a Senate companion bill in the final weeks of the session, sent a serious signal that Congress is taking a hard look at the dysfunction of the “competitive” bidding program. 

As of the writing of this article in early January, AAHomecare has received encouraging signals from key legislators that they understand the short time frame for re-introducing binding bid legislation. With bids due in late March of 2015, the urgency to rein in this badly designed program has never been stronger.

AAHomecare is aggressively working to build serious momentum on the Hill in the first part of the year, develop responsible legislation that can stand on its own or be attached to another legislative vehicle, and continue mobilizing our industry going into our congressional meetings at the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference, May 19-21 in Washington, D.C.

The timing of the conference is vital as we expect to see significant movement on many issues in the first and second quarters of 2015.

AAHomecare is not slowing down on audit reform and with the introduction of the Audit Improvement and Reform Act in 2014, more congressional offices are familiar with the legislative provisions that could streamline the bloated audit process by increasing transparency, education and outreach, and rewarding suppliers that have low error rates on audited claims. Audit reform is one of the top priorities for leaders on influential committees and AAHomecare continues to act as a resource to key staffers. AAHomecare will also be ramping up the HME Audit Key, which will aggregate and report on audit data from providers to quantify the rubber stamp denials at the early levels of review, and show the direct and devastating impact of this broken system. This is a massive undertaking on behalf of the entire industry and you’ll be hearing more about it as the online data collection portal is finalized.

On the regulatory front, AAHomecare will be working to rein in the overly burdensome regulations that are the root causes of problems that manifest across the spectrum of HME. The AAHomecare Regulatory Council will be identifying, prioritizing and actively pursuing changes to Medicare’s face-to-face requirements, as well as Medicare’s documentation requirements related to accessories and supplies. AAHomecare’s other advisory councils—complex rehab and mobility, HME respiratory therapy, medical supplies, and state leaders—will all be bringing the expertise of their volunteer leadership to bear on their respective portfolios of issues. As of the writing of this article, there are several initiatives under consideration that could have a major impact on HME in 2015.

Last year resulted in hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill by AAHomecare members, thousands of emails and calls from HME advocates across the country to congressional offices, a calendar filled with district-based meetings and site visits during recess periods, and the engaged support and leadership from state and regional associations. 

I hope to see even more energy from my industry peers in 2015. The year ahead will be a challenging one, but we must adapt as we move on from yesterday and ready ourselves to face tomorrow.

Robert Steedley is the president of Barnes Healthcare Services and chairman of AAHomecare’s board of directors.