Lawmakers break for recess without names of winning bidders

Thursday, September 30, 2010

WASHINGTON - September is over, Congress has gone home and, at press time on Friday, the HME industry was still waiting for CMS to release the names of the providers who won contracts for national competitive bidding.

"We're very concerned that CMS has not yet released the names," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. "They have the names--just let them out."

CMS released the winning bid amounts in July and it was scheduled to release the names of the winning bidders in September.

Industry stakeholders speculated that the delay could signal that CMS is having trouble with the contracting process.

"I'm very concerned about what decisions they're making to advance the program if they're not able to hit these targets that they outlined," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility. "There must be something that really has gone awry, as far as why it's taking so long to get that information out."

The delay was probably a factor in the decision by the House Ways and Means Committee to cancel a second hearing on competitive bidding last week. The committee may reschedule the hearing for mid-November.

"They didn't believe CMS would have the names of the contractors out and they really think that is critical data to examine at the hearing," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

One development that had everyone buzzing on Capitol Hill last week: A letter circulated by some well-respected economists that criticizes the bidding program (see related story).

"The letter has generated a significant amount of interest," said Bachenheimer. "It validates what we have been saying and a lot of people are waking up now."

Industry stakeholders urge providers to show the letter to their lawmakers while they are back in their home districts, as well as attend candidate events and donate money to campaigns. Providers, however, may find they have their work cut out for them.

"Election recesses are always tough," said Wayne Stanfield, president of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES). "Particularly in the House, because members are focused on their campaigns. They are not likely to tackle any controversial issues."

Although H.R. 3790, the bill to repeal NCB, now has 257 co-sponsors, the industry has so far been unable to get a Senate companion bill. NAIMES this week plans to focus its attention on key senators, particularly those on the Senate Finance Committee.

When Congress returns after the November elections, it will be for a short lame duck session, say stakeholders.

"Who knows if they will help us fix the program or what form it will take," said Bachenheimer. "But, the fat lady hasn't sung yet."