Bidding debate heats up

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

WASHINGTON--The deadline for submitting comments on national competitive bidding came amid a flurry of activity that has the potential to derail the program or propel it forward.

CMS closed the comment period for the interim final rule on competitive bidding March 17.

That same month, however, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, asking Acting Secretary Charles Johnson to rescind the rule. Also in March, AAHomecare announced that it had outlined government relations, grassroots and PR actions to eliminate competitive bidding altogether.

Not all activity was positive. The industry learned in March that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Va. - described as “a competitive bidding friendly guy” - plans to hold a hearing on the program April 1.

As things stand right now, on or soon after April 18, industry stakeholders expect CMS to restart Round 1 of competitive bidding with a request for bids.

Not if members of Congress like Specter can help it.

“He believes the rule should be rescinded to give the administration time to analyze the program,” said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility. “He’s concerned - he has heard from providers about how Round 1 impacted them and their patients.”

The industry even has members of Congress who want to introduce legislation to eliminate competitive bidding, stakeholders say.

“But it’s more complicated than that,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “With pay-go rules and other issues, we have to be strategic. We want to get both parties on the same page and build a groundswell.”

It’s unlikely Rockefeller’s hearing will help the industry’s cause. Rockefeller, chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, was one of a handful of senators who wrote letters last summer against delaying NCB.

“We presume the discussions during this hearing will not be in favor of eliminating or delaying the program,” said Wayne Stanfield, president of NAIMES.

AAHomecare has asked to testify at the hearing.

“This hearing will require us to once again make our case that this program is fatally flawed and needs to be abolished,” said Walt Gorski, the association’s vice president of government affairs.