Clock ticks on FEHBP fight

Thursday, September 30, 2004

WASHINGTON - While it may appear like an uphill battle, there’s still reason to hope that the industry can stave off FEHBP reimbursement cuts to key DME products lines slated for 2005.

First, a chance exists - however slim - that lawmakers could pass a bill this year that repeals the cuts. If that doesn’t happen, CMS could postpone the cuts to address congressional concern that the reductions are unfair.

As of early September, 41 members of Congress had signed onto H.R. 4491, legislation that would repeal the FEHPB cuts. Industry watchers expected more lawmakers to sign the bill last month when they returned from their traditional summer recess.

Because it’s an election year, few expect lawmakers to pass any significant legislation before year’s end. If H.R. 4491 isn’t passed this year, a strong show of support for it by representatives could convince CMS to delay the cuts. To grab CMS’s attention, however, an estimated 100-150 representatives need to sign the bill.

“If we don’t create that swell of interest, then that shows this industry is not concerned, and we should be concerned about taking care of our patients and being able to provide these services,” said Kay Cox, AAHome-care’s CEO.

Throughout the rest of the year, AAHomecare will keep state HME associations up to date on who has and who hasn’t signed onto H.R. 4491, Cox said. That way, state HMEs can continue to lobby lawmakers for their support.

In addition to H.R. 4491, several Washington lawmaker have penned letters to DHHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, urging him to make sure that any HME cuts be based on trustworthy data.

“If you have enough of those people writing and talking to CMS, saying ‘You really need to take a hard look at this,’ than what does CMS have to lose by delaying?” said John Gallagher, VGM’s vice president of government relations. “I don’t think they are in a hurry to push it through. The are concerned about anything that will decrease access.”