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Home Oxygen Care Leaders Say President's Budget Will Lead to Significant Patient Service Disruptions, Call for Thoughtful Reforms as Opposed to Repeated Cuts

$3 Billion of Additional Medicare Cuts to Home Oxygen Benefit Proposed; $1.5 Billion in Medicare Cuts Already Scheduled to Take Affect in Less than One Year

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Council for Quality Respiratory Care (CQRC) -- a coalition of the nation's 11 leading home oxygen therapy providers and manufacturers -- expressed sincere disappointment today in response to cuts to Medicare's home oxygen benefit found in the Bush Administration's proposed budget. According to the President's budget, the potential cuts equate to $3 billion over the next five years to home oxygen therapy, a critical care service that more than 1.4 million Americans depend on for independence and quality of life. The home oxygen community is already facing significant policy changes, taking affect on January 1, 2009, which will impact nearly 300,000 Americans, or 22 percent of the Medicare beneficiaries who rely on home oxygen for their home-based care needs.

"Reforming the payment system means creating a payment system based on patient need," said Peter Kelly, Chairman of the CQRC. "Simply cutting payments for home oxygen without thoughtful analysis does not lead to reform and can lead to disruption in patient services."

The President's budget proposes to cap Medicare payments at 13 months rather than 36 months. Under the proposal, patients would be required to take ownership of their equipment after 13 months. This change in ownership will result in an estimated $3 billion in cuts over five years to providers, which will significantly reduce services.

The Administration's proposal comes at a time of great uncertainly for home oxygen patients and providers. Sweeping policy changes already in place, enacted by the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 and the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, will cut benefits for home oxygen by more than $1.5 billion over 2009 and 2010. A recent Harris Interactive Survey found Americans support stronger funding for home health care with approximately four of five voters backing increased Medicare coverage for home medical equipment and healthcare services, including oxygen therapy. A vast majority of Americans surveyed, 82 percent, preferred receiving care at home as opposed to a hospital setting, as a way to remain independent and close to friends and family.

"President Bush's budget fails to adequately provide for more than one million Americans who rely on their Medicare home oxygen benefit for quality, cost-effective, continuous healthcare. It is difficult to imagine how we would accommodate patient needs with these newly proposed cuts, especially as we struggle to wholly grasp the depth of the unprecedented funding cuts already before us," added Kelly. "Balancing the federal budget at the expense of vulnerable patients is just bad policy. We encourage Congress to reject the Medicare savings currently found in the President's budget and create a budget that protects the critical care services of home oxygen Medicare beneficiaries nationwide."

Home oxygen therapy costs the Medicare program $7.62 per day versus as much as $4,600 per day in the hospital. In 2002, there were 673,000 hospitalizations for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) with an average length of stay of 5.2 days. A recent government study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that long term use of home oxygen therapy reduces hospitalizations and, when hospitalizations do occur, reduces the length of hospital stay. The typical home oxygen Medicare beneficiary is female, suffers from COPD, is in her mid-70s, lives alone, and has physical limitations that prevent her from driving.

Nationwide, as many as 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD. It is a slowly progressive, incurable disease that causes irreversible loss of lung function. Although existing medications have not proven beneficial in reversing its effects, home oxygen therapy--when properly prescribed and maintained--can slow or stop lung degeneration. Today, more than one million Medicare patients depend on the Medicare oxygen benefit for quality of care and quality of life in the home environment. This is a benefit covered under Medicare Part B. Medical oxygen is classified as a drug under the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and can only be administered under a physician's care.

"Now is the time for thoughtful reform that is focused on the patient," concluded Kelly. "Policymakers simply can't cut their way to quality care. Disrupting a cost-effective benefit that is good for patients and good for taxpayers is simply not good policy."

The Council for Quality Respiratory Care is a group of the nation's leading home oxygen therapy providers and manufacturers, representing a majority of the more than one million Medicare patients who depend on the home oxygen benefit for their care in order to live in an independent environment. CQRC members include Air Products, AirSep Corporation, American HomePatient , Apria Healthcare, Invacare, Lincare, Pacific Pulmonary Services, Praxair, Inc., Respironics, Inc., Rotech Healthcare Inc. and Sunrise Medical, Inc.

SOURCE Council for Quality Respiratory Care
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