Legislation proposed to repeal cuts

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

WASHINGTON - Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation in early June to repeal cuts for certain items of DME, including oxygen and power wheelchairs, that are scheduled to take effect in January 2005.

The reimbursement cuts are part of the Medicare Modernization Act, which became law in December 2003. If implemented, CMS would use pricing data based on the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan to reduce pricing for oxygen, manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, nebulizers, diabetic supplies and air mattresses.

If passed, H.R. 4491 would repeal the cuts. Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, and Rep. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., introduced the bill June 3.

“We now have an official bill that has been introduced, and it is now our job as an industry to garner support,” said Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare’s vice president of government affairs. “It is very easy for a member of Congress to show his support by signing on as a sponsor of the bill. That is what we need to do to build some momentum. One or two congressman can’t do it alone.”

From the perspective of grassroots lobbying, the FEHBP bill should energize the industry, said John Gallagher, VGM’s vice president of government relations. After a big grassroots effort last year to stave off FEHBP, competitive bidding and other reimbursement cuts, providers suffered a letdown and went quiet after those and other hits passed in the MMA, he said.

“We’ve got to get folks out there talking again because [lawmakers] we’ve talked to say they haven’t heard from us since December,” Gallagher said.

The Hobson-Ford bill gives providers a concrete reason to contact their representatives and ask for support, Gallagher said.

So far, Bachenheimer said, members of congress that she’s talked to agree with the industry’s arguments: comparisons between FEHBP and Medicare are inappropriate because FEHBP plans serve a younger, healthier population and impose fewer administrative burdens on providers. The provision was also inserted into the MMA at the last minute and based on insufficient data, argue industry supporters.

“Those are good arguments,” Bachenheimer said. “You don’t make policy in a hasty and ill-founded way. That makes sense to a lot of people. We should be easily able to get 50 members of congress to signed on, and I would love to see 100 sign on - that is not out of the realm of the possible.”