Bidding crunch time: 'This is where the rubber hits the road'

Thursday, August 26, 2010

WASHINGTON - Congress may be in the middle of its August recess, but with possible hearings on competitive bidding next month, industry stakeholders are girding themselves for battle.

"This is where the rubber hits the road," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "Congress is only going to be in for a few weeks before they go home again in October."

The biggest priority right now: Getting the names of the winning bidders. CMS officials have said in the past that they plan to make those names  public in September.

But the word on the street is that CMS may wait until sometime in October.

"There is no statutory requirement for them to release those names in September," said Jay Witter, senior director of government affairs for AAHomecare. "They could just as easily do it in October after Congress has adjourned."

Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., and Ralph Hall, R-Texas, asked CMS in a letter to release the names by Aug. 20. So far, no dice.

Depending on who they are, the winning bidders could help the industry paint a picture of how poor a job CMS did selecting bidders and offering contracts, say stakeholders.

With or without the names, the industry has its work cut out. With competitive bidding slated to begin Jan. 1, 2011, any progress made in delaying or repealing the program has to happen fast, say stakeholders.

Even though the industry still doesn't have a bill to repeal competitive bidding introduced in the Senate, it may be able to get its bill in the House, H.R. 3790, attached to either a doc fix bill, which must be introduced before Nov. 30, or an omnibus bill that will likely address a host of Medicare issues, say stakeholders.

"There's going to be a mammoth bill that they will probably work on up until Christmas week," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. "For the next two weeks, while members are in their home districts, we have to focus on talking about the impact competitive bidding will have, whether they are in a bid area or not. You want them to get it in their heads so when they come back they are asking, 'How do we fix this?'"

In other activity:

*    AAHomecare last week released a summary of a study it commissioned on the patient impact of competitive bidding. Conducted by actuarial firm Dobson DaVanzo & Associates, the study predicts that the program could result in reduced access to care and lower quality products for beneficiaries. AAHomecare plans to release the full study in mid-September. A brief can be found here:

*    Invacare's Mal Mixon, AAHomecare's Tyler Wilson, and the VGM Group's Van Miller met with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently to discuss their concerns about competitive bidding. They followed it up with a letter Aug. 25 reiterating key points. The secretary promised to look into the issues.