Competitive bidding: 'We're pressing the bill as hard as we can'

Saturday, October 31, 2009

WASHINGTON - The HME industry is running every play in the playbook--calling and visiting legislators; planning press conferences and rallies; and even holding contests--to collect more co-sponsors for a bill that would eliminate national competitive bidding.

"There's a lot of blocking and tackling going on out there," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy.

At press time on Friday, H.R. 3790, introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., had 53 co-sponsors. The bill would eliminate competitive bidding in exchange for a mix of pay-fors, including a 0.25% cut in 2010-12 and a 0.5% cut in 2015.

Several state and regional associations have held fly-ins in Washington. D.C. The New York Medical Equipment Providers Association (NYMEP) and the New England Medical Equipment Dealers Association (NEMED) were there last week.

"We're pressing the bill as hard as we can," said provider Dan DeSimone, past president of NYMEP. "A lot of us feel like this is our last chance to really get competitive bidding pulled out, so it's time to put them against the wall."

The Accredited Medical Equipment Providers of America (AMEPA) was in Washington, D.C., the week before last, on Oct. 20, the day before CMS began soliciting bids for competitive bidding.

"We're letting them know that the 9.5% cut and the 36-month oxygen cap have affected providers' ability to stay in business," said provider Rob Brant, AMEPA's executive director. "They're closing their doors even without competitive bidding."

The number of oxygen providers in bidding areas like Miami has already been cut in half, according to AMEPA.

In addition to the fly-in, AMEPA plans to hold rallies in Florida in late November.

The Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (PAMS) has a press conference in the works. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., a co-sponsor of H.R. 3790, has agreed to participate.

"The message that we keep trying to drive home is: Everyone is in Round 1," said John Shirvinsky, PAMS's executive director. "The impact will be immediate and it won't be limited. There's no way to keep this genie in the bottle."

One of the healthcare reform bills in play, Shirvinsky points out, includes provisions to increase the number of bidding areas and apply bid rates to all areas.

To encourage healthy competition, The VGM Group has offered the executive director who gets 100% of the representatives in his or her state(s) to co-sponsor the bill free registration to its Heartland Conference next year, as well as a free plane ticket and hotel stay.

"The state associations are putting a lot of effort into this, and if we can reward them in some way for that, we should," said John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations.