Grassley seeks to protect rural providers

Sunday, February 1, 2009

WASHINGTON - A bill that would exempt rural providers from national competitive bidding was introduced in the Senate Jan. 27, but industry stakeholders aren't hanging their hat on it.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, introduced the Medicare Rural Health Access Improvement of 2009 to improve Medicare payments to rural doctors and mid-sized hospitals. The bill includes a provision that would exempt HME providers in rural areas and metropolitan statistical areas with populations of 600,000 or less from competitive bidding.

"He gets that NCB will be detrimental to rural healthcare providers," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. "He just needs to see it's not good for everybody else."

The bill is similar to one Grassley introduced in 2008. In addition to exempting rural areas and small MSAs from having to bid, it would prevent CMS from applying bid prices to providers in those areas.

Provider Shawn Murchison agrees that rural providers should be exempt from competitive bidding. He works in sales and marketing at Acadia Medical in Fort Fairfield, Maine, which serves 6,700 square miles of heavily forested territory. 

"With a competitive bidding process, we may be able to provide some products but not others," he said. "Someone else may win a bid, but they are located six hours away. That's not good for patient care."