Industry eyes potential Senate sponsors for NCB bill

Sunday, June 4, 2006

WASHINGTON - The HME industry has zeroed in on four senators who it believes could be potential co-sponsors for a companion bill that, like the Hobson-Tanner bill in the House of Representatives, would lessen the blow of national competitive bidding (NCB).

The senators are all members of the powerful Finance Committee

"We're still at a point where it's a matter of them understanding and being comfortable with everything," said Cara Bachenheimer, vice president of government relations for Invacare. "It takes time."

The industry has 115 co-sponsors for the Hobson-Tanner bill, H.R. 3559. Once it collected at least 100 co-sponsors for the bill, the industry felt confident moving forward with plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

To help the industry's efforts, Alpine Home Medical Equipment hosted a visit from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, last week. During the visit, he toured the company's new 18,000-square-foot facility in Salt Lake City, which features a 6,000-square-foot warehouse and a 3,000-square-foot showroom.

"His comment was, 'You're heavily invested in this,'" said Jay Broadbent, owner and president of Alpine. "I told him, 'We've bet the farm on this industry, and frankly, we're in trouble without your help.'"

The pro-business Hatch seemed sympathetic--not only to NCB's possible impact on smaller providers but also its impact on patients, mainly their freedom to choose their own provider, said Wayne Grau, Pride Mobility's senior area manager for New England, who attended the Alpine visit.

Tom Bradley, CEO of the Orem, Utah-based Petersen Medical, a competitor of Alpine's who attended the visit, agreed.

"He didn't give us a commitment (to co-sponsor a Senate companion bill), but he gave us a commitment to read through a bill and give it a good hard look," Bradley said. "I'd like to remain optimistic that he'll jump on board on this."

In addition to Broadbent and Bradley, Hatch heard from more than a dozen beneficiaries, including an oxygen patient who told the senator how he turned to Alpine after receiving lackluster service from another provider.

"He told him how we provide regular tank deliveries and check his concentrators," Broadbent said. "He asked him, 'If Alpine doesn't win a bid for this area, where do I go?' It was a very powerful testimony."

The industry hopes to have a companion bill introduced in the Senate before AAHomcare's legislative fly-in June 19-20, Bachenheimer said.