Lawmakers mull price freeze and competitive bidding

Sunday, October 26, 2003

October 27, 2003

WASHINGTON - The concrete is fast drying on a compromise between House and Senate conferees that may not only bring a CPI price freeze but competitive bidding to the durable medical equipment industry.

Reports from Washington say that conference committee staffers have hammered out a compromise that will freeze the DMEPOS fee schedule for a year while CMS readies its plan for a nationwide competitive bidding in select product categories.

Until last week, industry insiders seemed to believe that either competitive bidding or a price freeze was likely to emerge from conference committee deliberations. But not both.

“One of our fears, going back a year, was that we’d get whacked with both,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations at The VGM Group.

Although it’s still too soon to declare that the conference committee has made its decision on DME reimbursement, there’s some begrudged investment of hope in proposal that would extend the CPI freeze to three years.

“Bill Thomas is pretty adamant that it not go beyond one year,” said Seth Johnson, director of public policy at AAHomecare.

AAHomecare supports the Senate’s Medicare reform package, which calls for a seven-year price freeze on the DME fee schedule.

On Wednesday, the president plans to make an announcement in the White House Rose Garden, either to announce that the conferees have reached a compromise or to encourage the achievement of one.

In either case, if the conferees do manage to produce a compromise, the new bill may have a tough sell in the Senate.

Sen. Tom “Harkin (D-Ia.) has told us he is no way going to vote for this bill, and there may be a filibuster,” said Gallagher.