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More than 10,000 Medicare Patients in Montana Could Be Hit by Proposed Cuts to Home Oxygen Therapy; Access to Power Wheelchairs Would Also Decrease

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Montana who depend on medical oxygen therapy to treat severe respiratory conditions such as COPD may see their benefits jeopardized because of dramatic changes to oxygen policy brewing in Congress.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a reimbursement cut to oxygen therapy that was included in H.R. 3162, titled "The Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007." The House cut oxygen because it was unwilling to increase tobacco taxes enough to pay for their changes to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and to Medicare.

The House bill would cut provider reimbursement for some oxygen systems and force patients in Medicare to assume ownership of oxygen equipment after 18 months of use rather than the 36 months under current law. The House bill faces a conference committee to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions of bills to reauthorize SCHIP. The conference committee will be made up of House and Senate members, including Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

The House bill would also eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs in Medicare. Eliminating the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs will reduce access for beneficiaries who suffer from long- term conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, spinal cord injuries or paralysis. Analysis by the American Association for Homecare, which represents providers of home medical equipment and therapies, has shown that eliminating the first-month purchase option would result in the Medicare program paying more for power wheelchairs than Medicare currently pays.

Mike Calcaterra, president of the homecare providers' association for Montana, commented, "The Big Sky Association of Home Medical Equipment Suppliers is deeply concerned about the proposed changes. We would like to thank both Senator Baucus and Senator Tester for not including the cuts to oxygen and high-end rehabilitation in the Senate version of the children's health bill."

"Proposing even more cuts to the homecare benefit in Medicare is penny wise and pound foolish," said Tyler J. Wilson, President and CEO of the American Association for Homecare, the trade group for home medical equipment providers. "Homecare is the most cost-effective setting for care in the United States. Yet both oxygen therapy and power wheelchairs have suffered numerous, dramatic reimbursement reductions, which threaten to erode patient access and quality of care. Many policy makers don't realize that medical oxygen is a highly regulated prescription drug, and providing home oxygen therapy requires numerous services to ensure patient health and safety."

The typical Medicare home oxygen beneficiary is a woman in her seventies who suffers from late-stage COPD with associated severe low levels of oxygen in her blood (hypoxemia). COPD is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and is the only leading cause of death for which both prevalence and mortality are rising. COPD is a chronic, debilitating disease characterized by severe airflow limitation resulting from chronic inflammation of the airways, decrease in functional lung tissue, and the dysfunction of pulmonary blood vessels. Approximately 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and an estimated 12 to 15 million more remain undiagnosed.

Congress has reduced Medicare reimbursement for oxygen therapy by nearly 50 percent over the past 10 years.

The American Association for Homecare represents providers and manufacturers of durable medical equipment. Association members serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility assistive technologies, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, home infusion, and other home medical equipment, therapies, services, and supplies. Membership includes providers of all sizes that operate approximately 3,000 locations in all 50 states. See

SOURCE American Association for Homecare
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