BOWLING GREEN, KY – With AAHomecare’s Legislative Conference set to begin in just two days, Medtrade Monday sat down with Thad F. Connally III, president of the Kentucky Medical Equipment Suppliers Association, and president/owner of First Choice Home Medical, Bowling Green, Ky.
Medtrade Monday: Why do you choose to give your time, energy, and money to the advocacy cause?
Thad F. Connally III: I just love the industry. If you don’t tell your story, then all kinds of unintended consequences can come down the road. I have a lot of people in Bowling Green, Ky, who know who I am, but a lot of people don’t know what I do. We work hard to get that message out there.
Medtrade Monday: When did advocacy start for you?
Connally: It’s my 36th year in the industry, but I started my current business in 2003. When I opened in 2003, I knew that I wanted to join my state association, which I did. I also joined AAHomecare about a year later. I wanted to be part of the process.
Medtrade Monday: How has competitive bidding affected you?
Connally: We are a rural area. We are the third or fourth largest city in Kentucky, but we only have four million people in the entire state. I knew from the get go that competitive bidding was not a good thing.
Medtrade Monday: How has CMS managed to come this far with the program?
Connally: You must realize that Medicare and/or CMS did a phenomenal job of spinning things by calling it competitive bidding. That put us behind the eight ball right off the bat.
Medtrade Monday: How long have you been fighting competitive bidding?
Connally: I have been fighting it since day one, but a lot of the rural people said, ‘Why do I have to get involved? It doesn’t affect me.’ I told them it is going to affect you down the road.
Now the rural areas are being affected. Now the metropolitan areas are saying, ‘What’s in it for me? Why do I need to care about you?’ We keep telling them that the limit on the bid ceiling applies to them. CMS has almost played us against each other. It has been an incredible challenge.
Medtrade Monday: I know it hurts, but tell me about the close call.
Connally: This past year I worked diligently on trying to get the Price and Thune bill into the Omnibus Bill. I went up on my own dime and lobbied my members of Congress. I met with Senator Paul, Senator McConnell, and all of the Kentucky delegation, and ended up getting five of six members to co-sponsor in the House. Senator Paul supported the Thune bill. Jay Witter, Tom Ryan, and I went to meet with Senator McConnell. It was a very good meeting.
Medtrade Monday: How did you deal with that close call?
Connally: Look, it takes a lot of work, but I truly believe in what I do, and what this industry does. We are pennies on the dollar in cost compared to everything else. It’s a challenge every day, but I’m going to fight and fight until they take it away from me and drag me out of my business.
Medtrade Monday: What are patient perceptions of the industry these days?
Connally: People do appreciate our industry, because it allows them to stay at home where they want to be, and it’s the most cost effective manner of health care. When you’re trying to explain that to members of Congress, it doesn’t always resonate.
Medtrade Monday: How has perception changed in Congress?
Connally: When I started going to Capitol Hill, there was a lot of talk about fraud, waste, and abuse. We were labeled as crooks and thieves. Now, because of the grassroots efforts of our industry, most of us can go into our congressional offices and they understand we are part of the solution.
Medtrade Monday: What are your top priorities right now?
Connally: We are on a time-sensitive calendar. If we don’t get this [second phase of rural cuts] stopped, I’m just not sure what it’s going to do to our industry. Well, I do know; it’s going to devastate our industry. The 20% cut was hard enough, but the second round would be devastating on July 1.
Medtrade Monday: How has your business changed, and how would it change if the cuts went forward?
Connally: On Dec 31, 2015, I was getting $180 and change per month for oxygen. On Jan 1, 2016, it dropped to $137. Now it may go to somewhere between $71 to $85 for a monthly rental. That is unsustainable. I can’t take care of an oxygen patient for $70 per month. It’s impossible. I’m a respiratory therapist. I want to treat people and take care of them, but you just can’t operate at that price anymore.
Medtrade Monday: How confident are you that you and industry advocates can get this fix?
Connally: I’m praying, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get this delay with the Price bill and the Thune bill. It’s going to be a tough sled. We need people in every state in this great country to go out there and inform their members of Congress as to what’s going to happen. A lot of companies will go down, and then we are going to have real access problems. You’ll see more patients running to the emergency room, and costs will just skyrocket.