House fast tracks bid bill

If passed, however, it would not apply to Round 2 re-compete
Friday, February 27, 2015

WASHINGTON – Industry stakeholders last week hailed a favorable vote that pushed legislation to reform the competitive bidding program a step closer to passage.

“There’s finally been recognition by key lawmakers that there’s a problem that needs to be fixed,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare.

The House Ways and Means Committee marked up H.R. 284, along with a handful of other non-controversial, bipartisan healthcare bills (see related story), on Feb. 26. The committee unanimously voted to pass the bill, which would require providers to obtain bid bonds and provide proof of licensure before submitting bids.

While that was a huge step forward, the picture wasn’t all rosy, acknowledge stakeholders. That’s because, even if passed into law, the bill wouldn’t apply to the Round 2 re-compete, where bidding has been underway for more then a month already.

“With the bid window open that would have required them to halt and restart the program,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “CMS has convinced the Congressional Budget Office that that would incur a cost to the government because they would not be able to implement the program July 1, 2016.”

The mark up cleared the way for H.R. 284 to move to the House floor for a vote, possibly as early as this week.

“We’re preparing the bill for floor action and have talked with leadership about an expedited process,” said Jay Witter, senior vice president of public policy for AAHomecare. “We have meetings in the Senate looking for quick action there, too.”

If the bill is passed, stakeholders say it will provide a solid building block to build the industry’s case against expanding the program through future rounds of bidding or through a nationwide expansion, says Ryan.

“We have to sit back and get an idea of what we’ve accomplished and take that win,” he said. “Every day we have to prove there are access issues, prove there are quality of care issues.”

For Ryan, who, as founder and CEO of Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Homecare Concepts also wears a “provider hat,” it’s frustrating that the bill isn’t in time to help providers currently submitting bids, but he says the only other option was for it to go nowhere.

“We were between a rock and a hard place,” he said  “This is still a significant movement.”