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Home Oxygen Leaders Commend Sen. Baucus' Efforts to Expand Health Care Access, Warn That Deep Cuts in Oxygen Benefit May Undercut Access

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Council for Quality Respiratory Care (CQRC) today commended Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) for developing important and creative approaches to ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality health care and underscored the importance of prioritizing initiatives that will identify and eliminate fraud, abuse, and waste in Medicare. But the CQRC also warned that deep cuts in Medicare funding for home oxygen due to take effect on January 1st will create challenging issues for patients and providers that could undercut access.

According to CQRC Chairman Peter Kelly, Medicare's home oxygen benefit has "endured repeated funding cuts over the past decade that have taken a significant toll, and the benefit will absorb yet another round of deep cuts on January 1st, the impact of which will be devastating." These additional cuts, enacted by Congress in 2005 (the Deficit Reduction Act) and 2008 (the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Provider Act), will remove approximately $850 million from Medicare's $3 billion home oxygen benefit in 2009 alone - a cut of more than 27 percent. An astounding $4 billion will be cut from the benefit over the next five years, he said.

These most recent cuts stem from two new Medicare policies: a cap on payments for beneficiaries receiving home oxygen for more than 36 months and a 9.5 percent across the board payment reduction. Kelly warned, "These cuts will challenge providers' ability to continue servicing patients at pre-cut levels."

Exacerbating the situation is a Bush Administration rule issued just two weeks ago that will prevent Medicare from paying providers to deliver needed supplies and to respond to patient-generated requests for non-routine services. "Non-routine home visits typically are triggered by beneficiaries experiencing clinical and equipment-related problems," Kelly said. "CMS is dramatically undervaluing the important role that home oxygen providers can and do play in preventing costly beneficiary emergency room visits, acute care admissions and avoidable physician intervention."

Home oxygen therapy costs the Medicare program only dollars a day. Government studies indicate that long-term use of home oxygen therapy reduces hospitalizations and, when hospitalizations do occur, reduces the length of the hospital stay.

Kelly urged Congress to closely monitor the impact these cuts will have on patient access to care and welcomed a constructive dialogue with Senator Baucus and others regarding reforming the oxygen benefit. "We believe that reforming the benefit in a way that eliminates the flaws in the current payment system makes sense. But we do not believe that reform equates to additional cuts."

Kelly also welcomed new efforts to eliminate fraud and abuse in the broader durable medical equipment program and called on all home oxygen providers to help identify and report incidents of fraud, abuse, and waste.

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 AirSep Corporation, American HomePatient, Apria Healthcare, DeVilbiss Healthcare, Invacare, Lincare, Pacific Pulmonary Services, Praxair, Inc., ResMed, Inc., Respironics, Inc., Rotech Healthcare Inc. and Sunrise Medical, Inc.

SOURCE Council for Quality Respiratory Care
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