Healthcare reform: 'We need to get our little squeak in there'

Sunday, October 11, 2009

WASHINGTON - With the Finance Committee scheduled to vote on a healthcare reform bill this week and the full Senate scheduled to vote on a final bill later this month, stakeholders are calling for the industry to "come together," now more than ever, to fight HME-related provisions.

AAHomecare estimates those provisions, if passed, would reduce HME spending by $5 billion.

"Everyone has been focusing on bits and pieces of the bill: is oxygen included, is competitive bidding addressed, what's happening with power wheelchairs," said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government affairs. "But cumulatively, this is a very devastating package. While different parts of the bill would affect different parts of HME, this is a time to come together. This is truly a case of, we need to hang together or hang separately."

The Senate Finance Committee's bill contains several HME provisions, including a provision to expand the national competitive bidding program from 79 to 100 cities in the first two rounds, and a provision to eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs in 2011. It also includes a provision to tax manufacturers of medical devices.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week gave the bill a "score" or price tag of $829 billion over 10 years, less than the $900 billion projected, paving the way for the Senate to move forward.

"Because it came in under projection, (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) is in the process of blending it with the Senate HELP Committee's bill," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "That way the full Senate can vote on a final bill the week of Oct. 19. That's given there are no significant issues."

But there could be significant issues, industry stakeholders say. The HELP Committee's bill contains a national public option for insurance coverage; the Finance Committee's bill does not.

The threats to HME are greatest in the Senate, industry stakeholders say. Leadership in the House of Representatives is working to meld three healthcare reform bills, but it's the Senate's bill that will likely form the template for a final bill, they say.

The challenge for the industry in the next few days and weeks: Not only coming together but also getting heard, stakeholders say.

"There's a lot of white noise out there (on healthcare reform)," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. "We need to figure out how to get our little squeak in there."