Competitive bidding: 'We are in a war'

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

WASHINGTON - Even if a Medicare prescription drug bill doesn't materialize this year, and a number of industry watchers think it won't, that doesn't mean competitive bidding will go away.

The scuttlebutt coming out of Washington is that lawmakers will look to competitive bidding for HME to offset Medicare givebacks - not help fund a prescription drug bill - to doctors, hospitals and home health agencies.

"That's why I feel we are in a war," said AAHomecare CEO Tom Connaughton. "Congressmen want to pass a giveback bill before the election. The problem is that if they do that in September or October, the only money they've come up with in the House is competitive bidding."

With a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on a prescription drug bill looking increasingly remote, some some industry watchers surmised competitive bidding might also disappear, at least until next year.

This year, next year, it really doesn't matter, said Jackie Negri, executive director of the New York Medical Equipment Providers Association (NYMEP). "It's going to come back," she said.

"And if that doesn't come back, guess what, something else will," Negri said. "And if it gets implemented, they've got to figure out how to implement it and that takes an education process, too."

The drive to defeat competitive bidding has spawned a frenzy of grassroots lobbying that has helped raise lawmaker awareness of the industry. For example, after the House of Representatives passed a Medicare prescription drug bill, Rep. Michael McNulty (D-N.Y.), wrote NYMEP saying he voted against the Republican bill.

"My perception is that the industry is becoming a well recognized service industry, and that's what we need to get out there, not just to the representatives but to CMS, the payers and everyone else," Negri said "We need to let people know that we're not just dropping off a box on a doorstep."

That's why providers need to keep up their lobbying efforts if they want to defeat competitive bidding or play a role in crafting a program they can live with, say industry watchers. HME