Industry wins big

Thursday, July 31, 2008

WASHINGTON--The House of Representatives and the Senate voted on July 15 to override the president’s veto of a Medicare bill that would delay national competitive bidding for 18 to 24 months.

The House voted 383-41 and the Senate voted 70-26 to override the veto.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “This is truly the biggest victory in the industry’s entire history.”

The president vetoed the bill earlier in the day on July 15.

The bill delays Round 1 of competitive bidding for 18 to 24 months and Round 2 until 2011 in exchange for a 9.5% nationwide cut for all products included in the program. It also exempts certain high-end rehab items from competitive bidding.

Additionally, the bill would allow providers to retain ownership of their oxygen equipment (See story on page 1).

At press time, the industry had no information on how CMS planned to manage the policy and payment changes.

There were concerns that the president would veto the bill and then pressure Senate Republicans to change their votes.

Before the president’s veto and the House and Senate’s override, Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products, said, “I don’t see what the president could offer Republican senators to change their votes. With a make-or-break election for many of them this fall, they have too much at stake.”

A 10.6% cut to physician reimbursement was scheduled to go into effect July 15, so industry sources expected the House and Senate to move quickly to override the president’s veto. The bill blocks those cuts, instead implementing cuts to Medicare Advantage, a private program the president and some Republican senators want to protect.

Industry sources conceded that they have many to thank for their success in delaying competitive bidding.
“We’re preparing a hearty thank you to all the stakeholders, providers, manufacturers, state associations, buying groups--everyone who has worked so hard on this bill,” said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare.

Provider Sam Clay called the vote “a testimony to AAHomecare” and a positive sign for the future.
“This means to me that we have time to get a new administration in there and, hopefully, that will mean new appointments to (the Department of Health and Human Services) and CMS,” said Clay, president of Clay Home Medical. “The people in there now do not have a good feel for what we do.”