HME bills to return in 2007

Sunday, December 3, 2006

WASHINGTON - It's unlikely that lawmakers will pass this year two sets of bills intended to help HME providers, but industry sources expect them to reintroduce the legislation "very quickly" in 2007.

One set of bills, H.R. 3559 (Hobson-Tanner) and S. 3920, would lessen the blow of national competitive bidding, which CMS must kick off some time in 2007. The other set, H.R. 5513 and S. 3814, would repeal the 36-month cap on Medicare oxygen reimbursement.

"We're probably looking at a February timeframe to get them both re-introduced," said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group.

Legislators are expected to end this year's session the week of Dec. 11. With so little time remaining, industry sources expect them to pass a resolution that temporarily funds the government--but little, if anything, else.

Industry leaders plan to work with Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., to reintroduce H.R. 3559 and H.R. 5513, respectively. But since the Democrats won the House and Senate in the recent elections, they also expect to work with other legislators.

"We'll continue to work with this year's sponsors," said Tyler Wilson, CEO of AAHomecare. "But when you have a new majority party, sometimes you look to refocus who you work with as lead sponsors."

Even though there's little chance of the bills passing this year, industry leaders plan to watch the last days of the 109th Congress closely. That's because legislators are still looking hard for money they can use to prevent a cut in physician reimbursement. The industry is pressing legislators to take that money from other provider groups, not HMEs, sources said.

"We need to be vigilant," Gallagher said. "Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., still has a 13-month oxygen cap sitting in his back pocket."