Observation Deck

Two Paths, One Result

Providers must lobby now, while building long-term relationships for tomorrow.

At this critical time for the HME industry, providers must get involved by lobbying for the hot issues that are likely to be addressed by healthcare reform. However, we cannot only look at this short-term objective. We must build long-term relationships that will bring us credibility and show homecare’s value. Suppliers must use both of these paths to complement each other as we go through this trying year of change.

Providers must work hard to develop long-term political relationships with members of Congress while still actively working for short-term change in policy. Over the years, it has become very clear that we cannot expect total support from members of Congress without first getting to know them and showing them that we support their goals, as well. Developing relationships takes a little time — a matter of months — and we have pressing issues that we must also attempt to get Congress to address quickly. So the dilemma is how we accomplish both of these effectively?

Relationship Building

For the most part, it is not difficult to develop a relationship with your member of Congress, despite the fact that some are very hard to reach. Those in leadership roles are more insulated, so you might have to reach them through their health legislative aide (LA). For the more powerful members of Congress, the Health LA can actually make a more powerful ally than the member themselves. It might be harder to get a member of Congress to listen before the relationship is established, but we must still work with them to support our goals while we work on the relationship.

Let’s talk about both sides of the problem and how to tackle them: First, developing a long-term relationship will serve our best interest over the years, and we can use the short-term issues as stepping stones to educate our members about our long-term future.

Over the coming months, we will be faced with numerous challenges and we will need to call, fax, email, or visit our Representative or Senators to help them understand the needs and value of the HME industry. Although some issues have been addressed, such as competitive bidding, the 36-month cap on oxygen payments, restoring the 9.5 percent cut to complex rehab, surety bonds, and strengthening site inspections, others will arise.

We must urge our members of Congress to support these immediate goals and this can be done through communicating these needs to our members of Congress. NAIMES, AAHomecare, VGM, the MED Group, and state associations will keep providers informed about what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Providers simply must listen, overcome the apathetic view that nothing ever changes, and get involved!

At the same time we are working on those short-term goals, we must also work to develop a strong and friendly long-term relationship with our Representatives and Senators. Providers must accept the reality that we will not win any of our battles in Congress unless we have relationships with legislators, and until we can prove that our service is a value to their constituents. Doing that takes more than just a fax or email. It takes us getting out of our seats and becoming known to them.

We have to support lawmakers’ goals and show them that we are credible, hard-working local businesses as well as involved citizens who strive for the same things they want. Remember that until they know us on some personal level, we are just human beings who want them to support or oppose legislation that benefits us. Once they know us, we gain credibility and it is much harder for legislators to say no to someone they have a relationship with.

In NAIMES’s grassroots seminars we talk about “You know who, but does who know you?” A one-way relationship has some value, but nothing compared to our Representative actually knowing us personally and understanding our business. The path to that relationship is not hard to develop; it just takes a little time and a little money. We can get involved by simply showing up when our legislator is in the neighborhood, meeting them, introducing ourselves, and thanking them for what they are doing for our community, county, or state. It’s no harder than making a friend of our new neighbor down the street except the long-term value will help us achieve the goals of our business future.

Time to Get Involved

The ball is in our court. Instead of complaining, why not do something to bring about change? We have two clear paths, both taking us to the same end result. The short-term path of seeking support for the industry’s immediate needs will be stepping stones to building the much needed long-term relationship path. We cannot rely on lobbyists, association leaders, or anyone else to protect our businesses. If we are not willing to invest a little time and a little money in the political process, why should anyone else?

Don’t get me wrong, there is tremendous value in the services of state and national associations. They are the information link and the rational guidance we need to ensure we present the right message when we talk to Congress. None of us can do our jobs without their support, but the provider possesses the key thing that an association doesn’t: A provider is a voter in their district and state. A provider has the personal story from home that resonates with lawmakers, and nothing is more powerful than that! Anyone other than a constituent is often noise in lawmakers’ ears.

Take up the fight and become a “Warrior for DME.” Join the growing ranks of provider owners and managers who understand the need to build winning relationships. Join the march to make the HME industry a key piece of the future of healthcare. We are the definition of prevention, wellness, and low-cost service. We offer the best value for the money of any segment of the continuum of care. Why? Because we keep people safe and healthy in their homes, and that’s priceless!

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Wayne Stanfield, a former air traffic controller, has been in the DME industry for 20 years. He is currently president and CEO of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES), as well as the executive director of the Home Care Alliance of Virginia Inc. (HCAV), a provider network with 63 locations in 11 states. He can be reached at (434) 572-9457 or via e-mail at yourfuture@dmehelp.org.

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