Industry makes 'incredible' push to delay competitive bidding

Sunday, June 22, 2008

WASHINGTON - --Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, haven't seen eye-to-eye on a Medicare package, but they came together last week to introduce a bi-partisan bill that would delay national competitive bidding.

S. 3144 mirrors H.R. 6252, a bi-partisan bill introduced earlier this month by Reps. Pete Stark, D-Calif., and Dave Camp, R-Mich. The bills would terminate Round 1 contracts, which are scheduled to take effect July 1, and re-bid them in 18 to 24 months. They would also delay Round 2 until at least 2011.

"The push we have on this is incredible," said Dan DeSimone, CEO of Continued Care of Long Island in Farmingdale, N.Y., and president of the New York Medical Equipment Providers Association. "A year ago, none of us would have thought this would be happening."

Between sponsors and co-sponsors, the effort to delay competitive bidding now has support from all the chairs and ranking members in all the committees with jurisdiction over budgetary matters, industry sources pointed out. Baucus and Grassley, for example, are the chairman and ranking member of the Finance Committee.

Industry stakeholders would like to get S. 3144 attached to a Medicare package that Congress must pass before July 1 to avoid a scheduled cut to physician rates.

"We have momentum," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "Now we just need them to move on the doc-fix bill. In theory, Baucus and Grassley, who are working on the bill, aren't that far away. They went through this last year, so it's not like it's new."

Next week, if it doesn't look like a Medicare package will get passed, Baucus and Grassley and Stark and Camp may try to get their bills passed as standalone bills, said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

"Stark has enough votes in the House to bring his bill to a vote and get it passed," he said. "The real problem is getting the Baucus and Grassley bill through the Senate in a timely manner. If it doesn't happen before July 1, we don't think CMS or Congress will want to stop the program retroactively."

There's also a rumor on Capitol Hill that Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, will use his administrative authority this week to secure a short-term delay of competitive bidding. The delay would allow disqualified bidders to resubmit information and be reconsidered for the program.

In the days leading up to July 1, industry stakeholders planned to keep the pressure on members of Congress to delay competitive bidding.

"We're circling back to the senators who signed the letter to delay competitive bidding to co-sponsor (S. 3144)," said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government affairs. "We're also working with the state associations. We're cutting things extremely close to the wire, so all efforts are aimed at the delay."

It was still unclear late last week, industry sources said, whether Baucus still seeks to make cuts to home oxygen therapy and power wheelchairs to help prevent the cut to physician rates. Industry stakeholders continue to push Grassley's Medicare package, which doesn't contain the cuts.