Industry pulls out all stops to push bill

Second phase of cuts hits non-bid areas on July 1
Friday, June 17, 2016

WASHINGTON – Friday afternoon was a nail-biter for the HME industry as a bill that would delay a second phase of Medicare reimbursement cuts moved through the “hotline” process in the Senate.

An unknown Republican Senate office on Friday put a hold on S. 2736, leading industry and state associations to blast urgent messages to members directing them to reach out to their senators.

“We need a wave of immediate support,” VGM said in a bulletin. “The clock is literally ticking for this bill to have a chance of being passed.”

At press time, there were still many unanswered questions, including whether the hotline process had also been initiated on the Democrat side of the Senate, and what the hard deadline for passing the bill is, first thought to be 5 p.m. Friday.

“We’ve also heard that the process can go into (the week of June 20),” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

If the bill passes the Senate, it will move to the House of Representatives for a vote under suspension.

Introduced March 17 by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.C., the bill seeks to delay the second phase of cuts in non-bid areas for 15 months—from July 1, 2016, until Oct. 1, 2017. However, a recent Congressional Budget Office score of the bill reduced the delay to 12 months.

That still buys the industry and its champions time to get a more permanent fix to the program, say stakeholders.

“This will get us into next year, where there will be a larger Medicare bill,” Jay Witter, senior vice president of public policy for AAHomecare, told attendees at the VGM Heartland Conference last week.“Once that second round cut happens, it will be extremely difficult to move forward.”

Although July 1 is less than two weeks away, CMS has yet to release the new payment rates, which may be even lower than what the industry has anticipated, say stakeholders.

“We all assumed the rate cut would double, however CMS has said it would (incorporate the reduced single payment amounts implemented Jan. 1 into the new SPAs),” said Bachenheimer. “It’s further manipulation by CMS of the bid prices.”