D.C. fly-in: 'Health care is at a crossroads, and we are well positioned'

Thursday, March 4, 2010

WASHINGTON - The HME providers who pounded the marble halls of Capitol Hill last week must have made quite an impression. H.R. 3790, the bill to repeal national competitive bidding, has picked up 13 new co-sponsors for a total of 163.

"The providers that aren't here owe a debt of gratitude to their colleagues," said Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of AAHomecare, at the association's Washington Legislative Conference last week. "Those who push aside work and money concerns to come to D.C. realize it's a matter of survival. Coming to Capitol Hill to push our cause is part of what they have to do."

Nearly 300 providers spent last Wednesday calling on lawmakers to talk up a range of issues from preserving the first month purchase option for power wheelchairs to repealing the 36-month cap on oxygen.

The biggest priority, however, remains repealing competitive bidding.

"Members are aware there has been a hiccup in the rollout of competitive bidding," Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., told attendees. "One school of thought is that the issues have been resolved. You have to talk about the impact the program will make in the member's district, not just the impact on your business."

During an attendee luncheon last Tuesday, it became alarmingly clear that CMS thinks the issues have been resolved.

"We take the PAOC very seriously and we've learned from the past," Jonathan Blum, director of the Center for Medicare Management, told the crowd. "The online bidding system is smoother, and we are not aware of any significant concerns."

That's all well and good, but you're missing the point, providers told Blum. John Shirvinsky, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers, summed it up this way: "No matter how hard you guys work, it's a fundamentally flawed program. This is going into the market, weaning the players and hoping that the chips fall where they may and everybody is served."

The timing of last week's event was serendipitous. Last Wednesday, healthcare reform, which in recent weeks had been on the backburner, was in the spotlight again as President Obama called on lawmakers to cast a final vote on legislation.

"A period of unprecedented national debate is occurring," said Wilson. "Health care is at a crossroads, and we are well positioned to get our issues out front and center."