Industry applies pressure, stands ready

‘I am not going to be satisfied until we get competitive bidding stopped,’ says Rep. Thompson
Friday, July 19, 2013

WASHINGTON – The heat wave blanketing the East Coast last week had nothing on the heat the HME industry applied to lawmakers as part of a virtual fly-in July 18.

“We notified every representative in the state and got a lot of good feedback,” said Paula Hardison, office manager for New Bern, N.C.-based Carolina Diabetic Supply. “We’ve shared our representatives’ email addresses with employees and customers, as well as the complaint line and the number to (the Capitol Hill switchboard).”

The virtual fly-in was a coordinated effort among AAHomecare, The VGM Group, The MED Group and state associations. The goal: to encourage not only providers, but also beneficiaries and referral sources, to contact lawmakers and describe the problems they’ve encountered under Round 2 of competitive bidding since July 1.

In addition to phone calls, more than 2,500 letters were sent to lawmakers last week, according to AAHomecare.

Right now, some of the loudest messages come from hospitals and discharge planners, say stakeholders.

“Bid winners 600 or 700 miles are telling them it will be weeks before they can send a walker,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. “When you are talking about, say, the Mayo Clinic, that’s not going to fly. That gets members of Congress saying, ’Wait a minute.’”

Although there is no way to gauge the number of calls made, a July 17 webinar to prep providers for the virtual fly-in drew 1,000 callers, with many additional callers, including Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., unable to get through. That bode well for the fly-in, Thompson told callers when he was eventually patched in.

“The fact that you are burning up the phones today is impressive and I am thankful for that,” he said. “That intensity is what we need. I am not going to be satisfied until we get competitive bidding stopped.”

Thompson is the lead co-sponsor on H.R. 1717, a bill to repeal and replace competitive bidding with a market-pricing program (MPP). Although the bill, which has 137 co-sponsors, is still the industry’s best chance for relief, stakeholders say they aren’t putting all their eggs in that basket.

“If (Congress) thinks there’s an emergency, they have ways of fixing things,” said Jay Witter, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. “Our job is to get support for our legislation and be ready for any opportunity that develops.”