Charles Grassley: Chairman of the board

Friday, December 31, 2004

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was the industry’s best legislative hedge against competitive bidding. And for awhile, it looked as if the hedge might hold. Before the House issued the details of its Medicare reform legislation last year, Grassley’s crew beat them to the punch and revealed a very palatable suite of changes for the HME industry, including a seven-year CPI freeze and an accreditation requirement. Would that it were so.

The industry has been feting this erstwhile champion, whose priority all along has been for rural providers. Pride Mobility Products sponsored a breakfast for him at Medtrade. VGM hosted a fundraiser for him in June. Invacare hosted one for him a week later. Various industry PACs filled his coffers. Unfortunately, more tenacious members of the House wanted competitive bidding. In a conference committee that reconciled the chamber’s different versions of reform legislation, Grassley’s 7-year CPI freeze was a poor substitute for more aggressive changes championed by Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. But Grassley did buy the industry some time by staving off competitive bidding for two years.

To deliver the savings Thomas wanted to wring from DME in 2005, we have a suite of FEHBP cuts - the lesser of two evils so far as the industry is concerned.

But Grassley hasn’t given up the fight to question competitive bidding. After the GAO issued a report that advised using the Polk County and San Antonio demonstration projects as pointers for the 2007 roll-out in 10 MSAs, Grassley expressed his concerns in a published statement, noting the potential impact on small suppliers and rural providers.