Competitive bidding: Reach out and touch a senator

Thursday, May 12, 2011

WASHINGTON - The industry has staked its mark in the House and it now seeks to do the same in the Senate.

"The key effort is to educate senators on competitive bidding," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "We believe that things will only deteriorate as time goes on."

The association is one of several industry groups that in recent weeks have ramped up efforts encouraging providers to contact their senators.

While H.R. 1041, the House bill to repeal the program, now has 97 co-sponsors--a number that will likely continue to grow--the Senate is a different animal.

"It takes more work with the senators," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "Part of it is that they are 12 to 18 months behind the House in terms of understanding the impact. Then you've got the overarching politics of the budget. Republicans generally don't want to touch something with a price tag."

Still, there are a few senators who seem to be "warming" to the issue, Bachenheimer said. The main reason: the flawed structure of the program.

"When you have 167 economists, led by Dr. Peter Cramton and other third-party objective experts, saying it's fatally flawed, that's pretty compelling," she said.

Meanwhile, CMS continues to tout the program, telling House and Senate staff last week that the program is operating smoothly, according to AAHomecare. It's up to the industry to counter CMS's claims, and it's certainly trying to. On May 9, members of the New England Medical Equipment Dealers association met with Sen. Scott Brown, R.-Mass., in Boston.

Provider Gary Sheehan, who attended the event, came away feeling that they had made some progress on educating Brown, a supporter of small businesses, about the bidding program's impact.

"We talked about the jobs impact and how the majority of the industry is controlled by small businesses," said Sheehan, president and CEO of Sandwich, Mass.-based Cape Medical Supply. "But we also focused more on the long-term negative healthcare outcomes, which is a story that survives any economic turnaround."