Across Florida, nearly 1.5 million people live with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a severe respiratory condition. While there are countless health concerns that occupy the minds of ordinary Americans, a majority of us take one thing for granted: breathing. This is no ordinary task for COPD patients.
COPD is the name for a group of lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These conditions are potentially fatal. Chronic lower respiratory disease, including COPD, is the nation's third-leading cause of death. Those living with the disease have a chronic cough and shortness of breath.
Fortunately, technologies exist that improve quality of life and preserve lives. Highly sophisticated oxygen devices, therapies and care services allow patients to live independently and remain at home.
Despite their life-sustaining role in the lives of patients, the federal government has hastily reduced Medicare coverage for home oxygen and equipment at the expense of vulnerable Floridians. Congress should act immediately to reverse these recent cuts.
Last year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services levied sizable cuts against home oxygen supplies and services effective Jan. 1 and fully implemented July 1. Payment reductions ranged from 30 percent to 50 percent.
Medicare quickly applied market-based, competitive-bidding rates to the rest of the country over six months. Suppliers were promised the ability to treat more patients in defined areas so their overall costs would be lower. The jury is still out on whether these rates will cover costs.
I'm not opposed to the competitive-bidding process. And I'm certainly not opposed to sensible reform, which renders health care more affordable. But I am opposed to senseless haste, which may do the opposite. When it comes to major reform, we need to be cautious above all else.
Since the additional cuts took effect July 1, home oxygen suppliers nationwide have reported service-area reductions and changes to care, resulting in delays for vulnerable, sick patients.
In Florida, some suppliers no longer provide certain equipment to Medicare patients, have eliminated delivery and are reducing access to respiratory therapists beyond the minimum required by law.
Fortunately, there is a solution. The Patient Access to Durable Medical Equipment Act would delay the phase-in of deep Medicare cuts to ensure the impacts of these payment reductions are studied, and patient care doesn't decline.
The House and Senate both passed bills delaying harmful cuts; they just took different approaches. Congress should come together to enact legislation that delays the cuts and retroactively corrects what we have been struggling to manage since July 1.
I've dedicated much of my professional career to Floridians combatting COPD and other pulmonary conditions. These are incredible people, and they deserve powerful allies in Washington who will protect affordable and widely available care.
Stephen Griggs is CEO of an Orlando company that provides respiratory therapy services and medical equipment to primarily older adults.
To learn more, visit cqrc.org and follow CQRC on Twitter at @TheCQRC.
Millions of Americans are living with COPD and Obstructive Sleep Apnea, experiencing acute respiratory failure, or living with neuromuscular diseases. These individuals rely upon home respiratory therapies to remain at home. Learn more about home respiratory therapies and how they can help.
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