Industry pushes forward, even as Senate stalls

Sunday, April 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - The Senate has delayed its vote on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' nomination for Department of Health and Human Services secretary until after the Easter Recess, but industry stakeholders aren't waiting around to make their case against national competitive bidding (NCB).

"Our mission is to persuade the administration they need to suspend the final rule and make some substantial changes to address fundamental flaws from last year," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "CMS has made no announcements about timing or putting out requests for bids, but I think they'll keep chugging along."

The lack of a secretary at HHS probably has little bearing on the fact that providers have no information on NCB beyond its April 18 start date, said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group.

"I don't think they were going to release more information until June or July anyway," he said. "They are not looking to provide us with any information to take back to Congress."

Meanwhile, Laurence Wilson, director of CMS's chronic care policy group, is expected to push the program forward.

"He'll just keep marching on until somebody gives him a different direction," said Gallagher.

Marching in lockstep with the agency are opponents of the program, including several legislators who were expected to send letters in support of rescinding the rule to Acting Secretary Charles Johnson, either last Friday or early this week.

"They will request he use his authority to rescind the rule so that the new administration and the new Congress have the opportunity to review and analyze the program and determine what role, if any, NCB will have in the broader context of healthcare reform," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility. "I am hearing there's a good chance that will happen."

Sebelius is expected to be confirmed, despite her disclosure last week that she and her husband had recently paid back nearly $8,000 in back taxes and interest for mistakes made on their 2005-2007 tax returns. Sebelius has said she would tackle healthcare reform head-on.

Her appointment won't speed up the healthcare reform movement, said Gallagher.

"Healthcare reform is going to be decided in Congress," he said. "That's why you are not seeing a push to get her confirmed. Obama is politically astute enough to know that's how Clinton failed--by trying to control reform through the White House."