Congress back in session, bid program back on agenda

Friday, September 13, 2013

WASHINGTON – Congress returned to work last week to a heavy docket: the debt limit, Syria and, for the HME industry at least, competitive bidding.

“There are all sorts of important issues, but when someone can’t get oxygen or is not testing for diabetes properly, that’s devastating to them, to the healthcare system and to the cost of health care,” said Jay Witter, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. “Bidding is still a problem and they’ve heard about it over the recess.”

One lawmaker who wasted no time getting back on the wagon: Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., who took to the floor Sept. 10 to reiterate his concerns with the program and ask his colleagues to support H.R. 1717, a bill to replace competitive bidding with a market-pricing program (MPP).

“While CMS makes claims that the competitive bidding program will increase market competition and lower costs, in practice, it’s shown to be anything but competitive,” Thompson told lawmakers. “Over the past several years, we’ve seen the program negatively affect seniors and force small medical companies—many that are local and the only entity capable of providing quality goods and a high level of service—out of the market.”

Introduced in April by Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., H.R. 1717 currently has 152 co-sponsors—a number that stakeholders expect to climb rapidly now that Congress is back in session.

“I think we’ll see double-digit co-sponsors added in the next week or so,” said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. “We are hearing of lawmakers throughout the country that are looking at the bill again in light of concerns that they are hearing not only from the industry but also from beneficiaries and consumer groups that really see the harm that this program is causing.”

In the 91 cities included in Round 2 of competitive bidding, the implications of the program continue to be far-reaching. With so many contract suppliers outside bid areas, for example, there are now reports that local contract suppliers can’t keep up with the demand. In response, the Competitive Bidding Implementation Contractor (CBIC) has confirmed to AAHomecare that contract suppliers may set capacity limits, but they must notify the agency so they won’t be in violation of their contracts.

“It’s a reprieve for those people that are getting barraged from people who need stuff,” said Kim Brummett, senior director of regulatory affairs for AAHomecare.

With Round 2 of the program, which kicked of July 1, well into its third month, stakeholders also expect to see an uptick in complaints as beneficiaries become eligible to renew their diabetes and CPAP supplies.