Time to Breathe Easier?


With covid-19 cases surging and hospital capacity dwindling, you rightly point out that the nation’s oxygen supply chain is being stretched to the limit (”In Los Angeles and Beyond, Oxygen Is the Latest Covid Bottleneck,” Jan. 7). Given unprecedented demand and a global shortage of critical supplies including oxygen concentrators, the severe pressures in the market pose tremendous risks to some of the country’s most vulnerable patients.

The problem isn’t confined to hospitals; more than 1 million Americans who need respiratory care at home are also potentially compromised because of these supply shortages in some markets. For those with serious illnesses like COPD or ALS, home respiratory care is vital for improving quality of life, maintaining independence and preventing hospitalizations.

Unfortunately, historical federal reimbursement policies unwittingly have led to this crisis. Previous rounds of Medicare’s competitive bidding program utilized an extremely complex methodology that forced suppliers to accept reimbursement rates far below the cost of providing service. As a result, many suppliers left the Medicare program, while many manufacturers of oxygen equipment stopped production and halted efforts to innovate treatment options. While Medicare has rightly paused Round 2021 of the competitive bidding program, which would have required suppliers who did not win the bidding process to stop supplying patients in competitive bidding areas, the lingering damage from previous policies is exacerbating the crisis. Further reducing capacity of oxygen equipment during the pandemic would have been devastating.

The Biden administration has the opportunity to address the shortage by finalizing the CY 2021 proposed rule, which will expand the blended rate for respiratory care products into noncompetitive bidding areas, and appropriately eliminate outdated budget neutrality requirements – a major step forward to ensuring patient access in rural America. Medicare could also help by maintaining the streamlined documentation requirements to minimize paperwork that have helped hospitals, physicians and other practitioners maximize resources for patient care.

Oxygen remains an essential tool in the treatment arsenal for combating the pandemic. We need to ensure a steady supply of oxygen for patients in the home, which, in turn, helps to reduce the tremendous surge in hospitals’ capacity. The respiratory care sector is eager to collaborate with the Biden team to implement policies that will ensure Americans’ continued access to home oxygen.

– Crispin Teufel, chairman of the Council for Quality Respiratory Care, Washington, D.C.