Industry turns up heat on bidding

Sunday, May 25, 2008

WASHINGTON - A "Dear Colleague" letter got a significant boost from the 160 providers and industry advocates who took part in AAHomecare's Medicare Bidding Fly-In last Wednesday. By its Thursday deadline (May 22), 103 U.S. representatives had signed the letter, which requests that national competitive bidding be delayed.

In the letter, which began circulating May 15, Reps. John Tanner, D-Tenn., David Hobson, R-Ohio, and Jason Altmire, D-Pa., ask House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health Chairman Pete Stark, D-Calif., and Dave Camp, R-Mich., its ranking Republican, to delay bidding for one year so the program can be further studied.

Stark has indicated to the industry that he supports an 18-month delay. With a new administration taking office in January, the letter positions the industry to make its case for scrapping the program completely next year, said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility.

"When we get to the point that it's appropriate to (go to) the Senate and get them to include this provision in a Medicare bill, it shows strong support in the House," he said.

Also last week, a small business subcommittee hearing on NCB drew a standing-room only crowd. At the hearing, Laurence Wilson, CMS director of chronic care policy, faced questions on ensuring beneficiary safety, preparation for Round 2, subcontracting and licensure requirements.

When Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., the small business committee chair, asked Wilson whether contract winners were licensed in states where they won contracts, Wilson was unable to provide an answer. Velazquez gave him one week to get one.

Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare's senior vice president of government affairs, said it appears that some unlicensed out-of-state providers did win bids in Florida and Ohio.

"This is huge, " she said. "The fact that bids went to companies that are not legally allowed to provide the services raises questions about access and, even more fundamentally, it points to the inadequacy of the bid process."

Several HME providers also testified at the hearing and said afterward they felt lawmakers were getting the message.

"When you talk about lack of access for Medicare beneficiaries, (lawmakers') ears perk up," said Casey Hite, vice president of Asheville, N.C.-based Aeroflow Healthcare. "Everybody needs to step up."

Heath Sutter, owner and CEO of Mountaineer Oxygen Services in Waynesville, N.C., agreed.

"As small business owners and as clinicians, hopefully we are opening their eyes to the reality that it's not just about dropping off equipment," he said. "What are the unintended consequences when beneficiaries have disruption in service?"

Provider Gary Gilberti won a contract for complex rehab in the Charlotte competitive bid area but encouraged committee members to support H.R. 2231, the complex rehab carve-out bill.

"I think they were mostly sympathetic to our issues," said Gilberti, president of Baltimore-based Chesapeake Rehab. "They didn't make any commitments to push for a delay. They're caught up in the fact that where there's a delay, there's (cost considerations)."