Observation Deck

Righting the Wrong Perception

Our industry has a compelling and positive story to tell, and it’s our job to tell it.

With the seemingly endless onslaught of policy attacks against our industry, you have to wonder what we can possibly do to put an end to it. There is one painful truth that every provider must realize: The perception among federal policy makers is that our industry is fraught with bad actors ripping off the federal government. There are very few who understand the difference that providers make in the lives of consumers each andevery day.

What we have in Washington D.C. is a virtually complete lack of understanding of the services we provide to consumers. And only this industry can change that mis-perception. Every single day HME providers make meaningful and positive differences in peoples’ lives, as well as in those communities. The challenge we must meet is to translate those every day good acts to stories which make good local news.

Spreading the Good News

Here’s one way to do it. Providers need to get in the habit of writing and issuing a press release every time your company is involved in a local effort. For example, HME providers routinely sponsor local disability group events, host equipment fairs, or engage in other community service activities. These are the stories that put a human face and voice on what we do and how we make a difference in people’s lives. These are stories that effectively communicate our collective value.

So how do you get started in ensuring that news media pick up the positive news? Compile a list of all your local press, including newspapers, radio and local television. Make sure all these media outlets receive a copy of your press release. You should be able to disseminate your press release electronically to all these entities — the truly time-consuming part is getting the correct email addresses up front. Make sure your local, state and federal politicians receive a copy of your press release; you should be able to send it electronically to all these offices, as well.

Then, follow-up with your local media to see if there’s any additional help you can provide to help ensure the story sees the light of day. Work in advance to have patients on-hand for interviews that can help bring life to the story. You don’t want to badger reporters, but at the same time, you want to help facilitate the process to get the best coverage results.

Convincing Policy-Makers

Next, it’s time for a refresher on educating your elected officials about the good things you do to help consumers. We will only begin to change the perceptions about our industry if we educate every single member of Congress — that is 435 Representatives and 100 Senators.

Each lawmaker needs to be aware of what your company provides for their constituents, and the differences you make in family’s lives. That way, when DME policy changes are proposed, those Representatives and Senators will hesitate, and begin to ask questions about the impact of any proposed policies that will impact your business and the patients your serve.

To find out who your members of Congress are, check out the U.S. Congress’ web sites. You can find your Representatives by your zip code www.house.gov. Similarly, you can locate your Senators at www.senate.gov. Familiarize yourself with your Representatives and Senators by reviewing their web sites.

After identifying your member of Congress, write your Representative and Senators a letter introducing you, your company, and briefl y identify the issues with which you are asking assistance (e.g., support for repealing and fixing the Medicare DME bidding program), and what the member of Congress should do to assist. You can obtain the Congress members’ mailing address information off their web sites, see web sites above – but faxes and email correspondence are better than U.S. mail. Follow up your letter with a phone call. If the member is unavailable, ask to speak the with health legislative aide (LA). Set up a meeting time to discuss your issue with the member and his or her staff.

At the meeting don’t expect the Member to be an expert on your business or the issue you are raising. Do expect to spend more time with the health legislative aide who may need lots of education about the issue, the Medicare DME benefit, etc.. Do end the meeting with asking the Member’s commitment to help you with this issue. Do expect the Congress member to be interested in how many of his or her constituents you “touch” – through your customer base and their families, your employees and their families, your ties to community groups, etc. The larger this group is, the better. Do follow up with the health LA, asking for a commitment to assist you.

Site Visits

A site visit is the most valuable way to educate a member of Congress and his or her staff about your business, the products and services you provide, the consumers you serve, and the impact of the many federal policy issues on your business and patients. Conduct a tour of your facility, do it chronologically as you would receive business.

For example, begin with intake and your customer service employees. Move to documentation and show the lawmaker the many different forms of paperwork that are necessary. Show the Congress member products. Explain what the products do and how they help consumers. If possible, take the Congress member to a patient’s home. (Get permission from the consumer in advance, of course!)

This work might seem laborious and time consuming, but it is necessary. The future of our industry depends upon our collective ability to get members of Congress understand the value of home care.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Cara C. Bachenheimer is senior vice president of government relations for Invacare where she is responsible for the company’s federal lobbying activities with Congress, the administration and the federal regulatory agencies. Bachenheimer has been closely involved with the home medical equipment industry for almost 20 years. She can be contacted at cbachenheimer@invacare.com.

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