Industry makes midwinter push for Meek bill

Thursday, February 4, 2010

WASHINGTON - Industry stakeholders plan to turn up the heat on national competitive bidding in the coming weeks to get more co-sponsors for H.R. 3790, which would repeal the program.

On Thursday, the Accredited Medical Equipment Providers of America (AMEPA) will host a public rally in Buena Park, Calif. The state is home to nine competitive bidding areas in Rounds 1 and 2.

"There are many lawmakers who haven't been aware of the significance of NCB," said Sean Schwinghammer, executive director of AMEPA. "We also want to get providers on board because constituents are the best advocates."

The bill, introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., currently has 140 co-sponsors. Only four of California's 53 Congressmen--the largest delegation in the country--have signed onto the bill.

"California is just now getting engaged," said John Gallagher, vice president of government affairs for The VGM Group. "People are getting attuned to the fact that NCB might actually come to California."

With California suffering a huge budget crisis, many providers are preoccupied with day-to-day business, said Gloria Peterson, assistant executive director of the California Association of Medical Product Suppliers (CAMPS).

"It's difficult sometimes to engage providers, but once they really get activated, they can be pretty proactive," she said. "Our members have been trying to educate their patients about what NCB is and how it will impact them."

AMEPA also has its eye on Chicago. Only one of the state's 19 representatives is a bill cosponsor.

That's not for lack of trying, says Tom Renk, executive director of the Illinois Association for Medical Equipment Services (IAMES).

"Our members have tried very hard to send messages to Congress," he said. "We sent people to Washington, D.C., to do a day on the Hill and the best they could, do for the most part, was meet with the sub-aides of the minor aides of the legislators," he said. "You never know if you are landing a punch or not."

The National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) has declared Feb. 12 to Feb. 22 "SOS Week." Providers are urged to contact their lawmakers during the President's Day recess and ask them to "Save our Jobs--Protect our Patients."

NAIMES is simply following Congress's lead, said Wayne Stanfield, president.

"Jobs are the No. 1 issue in Washington right now," he said. "We are not trying to take the focus off of patient access, but we are projecting that 18,000 HME employees could lose their jobs (under NCB)."

Despite the shift in Congress toward job creation, now is not the time to let up on the reins, say industry stakeholders.

"Something is going to happen in health care in the next couple of months," said Gallagher. "The Democrats and the president can't go without a healthcare bill. We need to keep pushing the message."