Home Oxygen Patients and Family Members Visit Capitol Hill to Ask Congress to Protect Critical Medicare Funding for Home Oxygen

Patient Advocates, Medicare Beneficiaries Representing 16 States on Capitol Hill Today Urge Congressional Opposition to Further Cuts to Home Oxygen Benefit

WASHINGTON, April 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Representing the voice of America's more than one million home oxygen beneficiaries with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung diseases, patients and their family members representing 16 states descended on Capitol Hill today to ask their federal legislators to reject any further cuts to Medicare funding for home oxygen care in the weeks ahead -- stressing that the funding is needed to preserve the quality and services of home oxygen care -- and presented a letter to Congress from the National Emphysema/COPD Association explaining why this benefit needs to be protected.

"Though it is difficult for many users of home oxygen to travel, our members feel strongly enough about this issue to come to Washington today and tell their legislators first-hand about the effectiveness of the home oxygen program, and how any additional cuts to Medicare-financed home oxygen care may create an unstable care environment for vulnerable beneficiaries," said Barbara Rogers, President and CEO of the National Emphysema/COPD Association (NECA), who also suffers from COPD. "The patient voice in this debate must be heard because our lives and our healthcare are dramatically touched by Medicare policy. By meeting with lawmakers and their staff, we hope to educate them about home oxygen therapy, explain why this funding is so important to patient care and why there must be no additional changes to the essential Medicare home oxygen benefit."

Across the United States, more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other degenerative lung conditions. COPD is currently the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and is on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, approximately 12 million adults are thought to have undiagnosed impaired lung function, which indicates COPD is grossly under diagnosed. As a progressive, incurable disease that causes irreversible loss of lung function, COPD can severely confine patients by limiting their daily living activities. Home oxygen therapy is often times the only available treatment for these frail patients and can even slow lung degeneration when properly used.

Home oxygen users, family members and advocates maintain that recent changes to the home oxygen benefit -- including a payment reduction of more than 20 percent scheduled to take effect beginning January 1, 2009, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' (CMS) competitive program scheduled to take effect in ten metropolitan areas in less than 60 days -- must be fully evaluated in terms of how these changes will impact patient care and services before Congress considers making additional cuts or changes to the benefit.

Rogers, leading the Congressional effort with patients, family members and caregivers representing 16 states -- including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas -- said the April 29th letter is helping patients explain in more detail the need to protect home oxygen funding with Members of Congress and their staff.

Excerpts from NECA's letter to the Senate Finance Committee, House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees includes:

"The home oxygen therapy benefit, which provides life-sustaining alternatives to institutionalization for more than one million beneficiaries with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other lung diseases, is scheduled for a payment reduction of more than 20 percent, which will take effect in less than nine months, beginning January 1, 2009.

"By interrupting the reliable relationship with oxygen providers, these policies threaten the quality of care home oxygen users receive and create an unstable environment for vulnerable beneficiaries.

"We also urge Congress to put a 'hold' on further changes so that policymakers have time to assess the impact of competitive bidding on oxygen patients. We are concerned that competitive bidding, which begins in 10 parts of the country on July 1, 2008, may result in service disruptions and other problems for patients. Because we don't yet know how the combination of these new policies will affect patients or the ability of our providers to retain the service infrastructure we depend on for quality healthcare services at home, we believe that further tinkering with this benefit is ill advised.

"We believe that there may be opportunities to reform Medicare's payment system for home oxygen, but we don't believe that payment reforms should translate to payment cuts. Therefore, we ask Congress to assess the impact of sweeping policy changes already underway and reject any additional changes to this life-saving benefit this year."

About NECA

The National Emphysema/COPD Association empowers people with COPD, their families and caregivers to improve the quality of patient care and the quality of their lives. For more information, visit www.necaweb.org.

SOURCE National Emphysema/COPD Association

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