Competitive bidding: 'Start over,' says Rep. Shuler

Sunday, February 15, 2009

WASHINGTON - It was standing room only during last week's Small Business Committee hearing on the effects of national competitive bidding on small providers.

"One of the ranking members of the committee said he attended a stimulus package hearing that didn't have that many people," said Beth Bowen, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Medical Equipment Services (NCAMES), which worked with Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C. to organize the hearing.

Shuler held a similar hearing on competitive bidding last May. The chair of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship is no fan of the program

"We need to get CMS to scrap the program and start over," he said in his opening statement at the hearing.

It was clear, based on questions asked by committee members and testimony given, that those involved believe CMS's previous attempt at competitive bidding were a failure and that the agency needs to fundamentally change the program or scrap it.

"Everyone did an outstanding job of conveying the program's impact and their experiences going through the process in Round 1," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products, who attended the hearing.

Provider Gerald Sloan testified about losing the oxygen bid in the Kansas City metropolitan statistical area (MSA).

"We bid high because of the 36-month cap and lack of knowledge about where it was going," said Sloan, owner of Lenexa, Kan.-based Progressive Medical. "Our oxygen program was eliminated."

Provider Rob Brant said competitive bidding reduced the number of providers in the Miami MSA by 95%.

"If there was a hurricane, patients wouldn't have access to providers," said Brant, president of the Accredited Medical Equipment Suppliers of America.

Bowen said last week's hearing should give the industry some forward momentum in getting legislation introduced to repeal competitive bidding.

"We want to see it slowed down and looked at and fixed," she said.