Providers Can Move Mountains by Working Local Relationships

american association for homecare logoIf you haven’t heard already, years of effort on the part of the HME industry has culminated in a groundswell of pressure for audit reform.

From the long hours put in by AAHomecare volunteer leadership and the Senate Finance Committee Roundtable to the ALJ backlog and the Center for Medicare Advocacy lawsuit, there has been a long series of events and actions that led to the introduction of the Audit Improvement and Reform Act last week.

But there is no component more important than the trust and mutual respect that was developed between Congresswoman Renee Ellmers and her constituents in the North Carolina HME provider community. AAHomecare thanks the providers on the ground in North Carolina for the time, resources and effort they put in over the course of many years to build these relationships, build trust in the HME community, and educate their legislators about pressing issues affecting our industry.

AAHomecare spoke to two influential North Carolina providers about what it takes to develop a productive relationship with your local legislator and how they worked with Congresswoman Ellmers.

Ed Dressen, Vice President of Dressen Medical Supply in Holly Springs, NC, and former president of the North Carolina Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (NCAMES) originally met Congresswoman Ellmers at a local chamber of commerce event and followed up with her staff when he attended the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference.

“The keys to building a long term relationship with your elected officials are to keep the lines of communications open, meet them on a local level and in DC, and keep your message short. Get to know the staff personally — it opens the door and then they look to you when they start hearing concerns from their constituents,” said Dressen. “Be sure to tell ‘real life stories’ that affect your patients (their constituents) ability to receive product or services and stories negative or positive about your company in providing products and services.”

Family Medical Supply in Dunn, NC is run by Joey and Billy Tart, long time leaders in the homecare community in North Carolina.

“We had known the Congresswoman prior to her running for office through the local community, chamber and local politics. After a visit in Washington, DC, we hosted a local event in NC for the Congresswoman, during which we held a mock bid to help educate her about the problems with competitive bidding. She immediately understood why we were so frustrated,” said Joey Tart.

“The key to maintaining a good relationship is being transparent, trustworthy and credible. We use information from AAHomecare and our state association to educate whenever possible and share any news article that we can use to drill down to the brass tacks that they would be interested in. We attend her local meetings and try to participate but not dominate, as she has many issues on her plate and some are much larger than DME.”

“Ellmers has become educated on the audit process and we owe much of that to her legislative council Mitch Vakerics, who we spent several hours with going thru the audit process. Once they understood the process it was simple for them to see the flaws in the program. And as with many of the Medicare programs that are designed to curtail fraud or misuse, the guys that get hurt are the ones playing by the rules.”

“Congresswoman Ellmers has changed our perspective of what a legislature can accomplish in Washington with hard work and honesty. We need more folks like her in office,” concluded Tart.

NCAMES was also instrumental in helping facilitate relationships between Congresswoman Ellmers and local HME providers and building support for the AIR Act in NC. AAHomecare asked NCAMES Executive Director Beth Bowen for some ways a provider can move beyond just attending fundraisers to developing a productive relationship.

“Contacting staff on a regular basis, forwarding news stories, pertinent legislation, town halls, getting on their mailing list for newsletters, just to name a few,” said Bowen. “Send in photos of provider community efforts and invite them and the Member of Congress to your office for a site visit or a ‘meet your Member’ event, which is much simpler than it sounds.”

“Working with Congresswoman Ellmers has been a breath of fresh air. She understands not only our industry issues but business concerns. We are honored to have her on our side,” concluded Bowen.

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