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Therapist Lobbies for Respiratory Treatment to Be Covered By Medicare

September 14, 2008

By CHRISTINE L PRATT

By CHRISTINE L. PRATT

Staff Writer

WOOSTER — He’s seen the positive effects on the longevity and quality of life for many patients. Now a local respiratory therapist is refreshed to know recent legislation will help to ensure delivery of necessary services to patients suffering from chronic lung and cardiac problems.

Jim Freehahn has been a respiratory therapist since 1993 and came in 1997 to Wooster Community Hospital, where he is lead therapist for the pulmonary rehabilitation program.

He is one of many medical professionals, patients and family members who lent a voice to a 10-year battle to guarantee Medicare reimbursement for physician-ordered cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation. The provision, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2010, was announced in August after members of the U.S. House and Senate voted in favor of the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008, overturning a veto by President George W. Bush.

Because of varying interpretations in the Medicare statute, not all patients have received the reimbursement, Freehahn said. In Ohio, patients have received reimbursement, but, Freehahn said he joined the cause to lobby for clarity in the interest of ensuring financial compensation in the future.

Even though they were getting reimbursement, providers and patients were “at the mercy of” Medicare and the fiscal intermediaries, who could at any time change their interpretation and deny payment.

He became involved while serving as the president of the Ohio Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation and traveled four times to Washington, D.C., to speak up for those in the profession and their patients.

“It’s great to have someone from our community involved in advocacy,” said Dave Rhoad, public relations and marketing manager for the hospital. “By promoting this legislation, (Freehahn’s) actually able to improve people’s lives in this community and beyond.”

Cardiovascular rehab often is used by patients in the wake of a heart attack, those who have undergone cardiac catheterization, open heart surgery or those diagnosed with stable angina.

Pulmonary rehab most often is used by patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and other lung disorders, such as pulmonary fibrosis and cystic fibrosis.

Rehabilitation services use physical activity and education to help patients reduce associated risk factors, Freehahn said, noting these not only help to improve the quality of a person’s life, but also can extend the life of someone suffering from a serious illness.

But the typical eight-12 week program can cost thousands of dollars, a cost unbearable for some.

“People opt out of it,” he said. “We’re primarily looking at people on a fixed income with Social Security, retirement, disability insurance, and they don’t have that money, especially when they’re dealing with chronic illness and are already stretched financially.”

It’s stressful, he said, to see them refuse services because of finances because “I’ve seen firsthand the outcomes of patients who participate in the program.”

End-stage COPD patients can double their life expectancy through participation, he said, adding the average age of patients treated for pulmonary disease at Wooster Community Hospital is 57.

The legislation is expected to not only ease the financial burden on patients, but it is likely to promote more timely access to formal rehabilitation and lend consistency to patient access to services, he said.

Passage of the law was the culmination of many years of persistence during which time medical professionals, patients, friends and family overwhelmed local legislators with letters of support, making it virtually impossible to deny support, Freehahn said.

And it’s because of all the little voices the goal finally was attained.

“It’s rewarding to know you’re an everyday citizen in Wooster, Ohio, and you played a major role in passing legislation that would affect patients in the entire country,” he said.

Reporter Christine L. Pratt can be reached at 330-287-1643 or e- mail cpratt@the-daily-record.com.

Originally published by By CHRISTINE L. PRATT Staff Writer.

(c) 2008 Daily Record, The Wooster, OH. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.




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