Hurry up and wait

Stakeholders prep regulatory, legislative strategies
Friday, April 7, 2017

WASHINGTON – When AAHomecare officials met with Seema Verma for the first time last week, they were pleased to find the new CMS administrator up to speed on key industry issues like competitive bidding.

“We had a very productive meeting,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO. “We still have a long way to go on the road to meaningful fixes on competitive bidding and other HME policy priorities, but I’m convinced a strong working relationship with new leadership at CMS and Health and Human Services is going to help the process a great deal.”

It’s a small step forward after several months of feeling like things in Washington, D.C., are moving at a snail’s pace. Ryan says he feels providers’ pain.

“It’s April already and they want to know what’s going on,” he said.

Part of the problem is that the Trump administration’s transition has been slow and chaotic, with hundreds of key positions currently unfilled, according to a recent Washington Post article.

But that’s slowly changing at HHS, which on April 4 announced 11 new political appointments, including for its Office of General Counsel.

“There are still a number of unfilled positions, but they are moving along,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “That’s all necessary to go to the next steps to work with career staff.”

In the meantime, AAHomecare has been busy laying out its strategy. Letters in February and March asked HHS SecretaryTom Price to freezerates in non-bid areas at the 50/50 blended rate that took effect Jan. 1, 2016; and outlined several recommendations to fix the competitive bidding program.

While AAHomecare is hopeful that it can get bid relief through regulatory measures, the association is prepared to take up its fight legislatively, says Ryan.

“We think we can get legislation dropped quickly and we have the commitment from a leader who thinks that strategy makes sense,” he said. “How quickly that would move through chambers and how quickly we’ll get a Senate companion remains to be seen.”

In the meantime, HME providers need to keep up the noise, said Ryan.

“Be vocal, be loud,” he said. “CMS keeps saying there are no access issues, but I am hearing there are access issues and we’ve got to get that message out loud and clear.”