Competitive bidding hearing draws crowd

Thursday, March 3, 2011

WASHINGTON - It was standing room only at a congressional staff briefing held March 2 on competitive bidding, a sign, HME industry stakeholders say, that there might be support for another bill to repeal the program.

"We got a sense that there is a lot of interest in this issue among congressional staffers," said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare. "There is sympathy for the problems with the whole program."

The hour-long meeting was hosted by Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., and Glen Thompson, R-Pa. Laurence Wilson, director of CMS's Chronic Care Policy Group, spoke during the first half, which was closed to the public.

Wilson was followed by a panel of HME industry stakeholders, led by AAHomecare President Tyler Wilson.

"The bidding program designed by CMS is faulty and its administration has been a lesson in poor planning, arrogance and clumsiness," Wilson told attendees. "The Medicare agency has been alarmingly dismissive toward a host of issues brought to its attention."

Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility, echoed that sentiment, criticizing CMS for its refusal to seek outside advice on ways to improve the program.

"It appears the agency is so wedded to the structure of this program and advancing it at all costs, (that they are) rejecting the advice from the Program Advisory and Oversight Committee, requests for information from Congress to make the program more transparent, and recommendations from 167 of our nation's top economists and auction experts," Johnson told attendees.

It looks like the industry's message was heard, says provider Georgie Blackburn, who also spoke at the meeting.

"Altmire and Thompson have received a number of calls from staffers saying, 'If there's a bill (to repeal the program), we are interested in signing on,'" said Blackburn, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs for Tarentum, Pa.-based Blackburn's.

That bill could be ready to push when stakeholders converge on Capitol Hill March 16-17 as part of AAHomecare's annual legislative conference.

"I feel confident that we will have a bill (by then) and have something we can take to the Hill and really drive home," said Blackburn.