HMEs seek Senators’ signatures

Monday, June 30, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The fight to persuade Congress that competitive bidding is bad for Medicare beneficiaries fanned out over Capitol Hill early last month as members of AAHomecare called on senators to ally themselves with Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s (D - La.) opposition to the controversial reimbursement mechanism.

HME providers representing 83 different companies called on legislators in 37 states, seeking signatures on a “Dear Colleague” letter that Landrieu wrote in March to Sens. Max Baucus (D – Mont.) and Charles Grassley (R – Iowa), both members of the Senate Finance Committee.

Although AAHomecare members also called on House representatives, most concede that the battle to beat back competitive bidding in the House has already been lost to Rep. Bill Thomas’ (R – Calif.) enthusiasm for the change.

Indeed, Patrick Morrissey, a congressional staffer who works for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, confirmed during the conference that competitive bidding was part of a Medicare reform bill that would soon come to light.

The HME industry has been fighting to keep competitive bidding language from a Senate bill that was coming together as HME providers mustered opposition last month. Sources say the industry is likely to win that battle, although Grassley is likely to implement a seven-year CPI freeze as a cost-cutting alternative.

Sources on Capitol Hill said the Senate Finance Committee would begin to mark-up its Medicare reform legislation in mid-June. Many believe that if competitive bidding language is on the table as committee members begin to work on the bill, then the battle to beat back competitive bidding will become immeasurably more difficult.

HME industry representatives had mixed results on Capitol Hill. In one South Dakota office, staffers confirmed Sen. Tim Johnson’s (D - S.D.) opposition to competitive bidding by showing Tim Pederson, CEO of WestMed Rehab, a photocopy of the senator’s signature on the Landrieu letter. Staffers in Tom Daschle’s office reported that the senator there was not yet committed to a position.

Providers reported that some, like Sen. John S. Corzine (D - N.J.), were not aware of the letter. Others reported less encouraging news.

“Sen. (Richad C.) Shelby (R – Ala.) said he was not going to sign the Landrieu letter because he didn’t want to appear not for competition,” said Mike Hamilton, director of the Alabama Durable Medical Equipment Association.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D – Calif.) surprised HME constituents from California with a more strident stance than had been anticipated.

“Sen Feinstein now thinks competitive bidding might be a good idea,” Lisa Getson, senior vice president of marketing at Apria, revealed at an AAHomecare debriefing session. “She has read all the GAO reports, and she believes there might be merit to it.”

HME providers from Cooley Medical Equipment in Lexington, Ky., sat down with a staffer for Rep. Ernest L. Fletcher (R – Ky.), who is also a doctor and who has also stated support for competitive bidding. When Cooley’s vice president of operations, Kathy Nichols, asked why, the staffer mentioned costs savings and then went on to report how persuasive Flecther can be on the subject.

“‘You really don’t want to talk to him about competitive bidding,’” Nichols said at the debriefing, quoting the Fletcher staffer, “‘because he’s a doctor and he’ll persuade you that competitive bidding can work.’”

At that, one HME provider at the debriefing said this: “Well then, let’s let doctors do competitive bidding.” HME