Competitive bidding debate heats up

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WASHINGTON - This week's deadline for submitting comments on national competitive bidding comes amid a flurry of activity that has the potential to derail the program or propel it forward.

CMS closes the comment period for the interim final rule on competitive bidding tomorrow, March 17, and then plans to move forward with the program one month later.

Last week, 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. Before that, on March 6, AAHomecare announced that it had outlined government relations, grassroots and PR actions to eliminate competitive bidding altogether.

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

For the moment, though, industry stakeholders ask providers to keep their eye on the ball and submit comments en masse (Go to and enter file code CMS-1561-IFC).

"We need to make sure we get as many comments on the record as possible," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

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"He believes the rule should be rescinded to give the administration time to analyze the program," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility.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," Bachenheimer said. "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 competitive bidding.

"From that, we can presume that the discussions during this hearing will not be in favor of eliminating or further delaying the program," said Wayne Stanfield, president of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES).

AAHomecare has asked to testify at the hearing.

"This hearing will require us to, like at the Small Business Committee hearing in February, 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.