Legislative conference: 'Senator, we're here to talk to you about competitive bidding'

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - Looks like providers had the luck of the Irish March 17 during AAHomecare's Washington Legislative Conference. H.R. 1041, the new bill to repeal competitive bidding, picked up 18 new co-sponsors in that one day.

"This bill has infused the conference with excitement," said Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of AAHomecare. "Providers are saying, 'I can push this ball down the field.'"

The Fairness in Medicare Bidding Act, introduced March 11 by Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jason Altmire, D-Pa., seeks to repeal competitive bidding and offset the estimated $20 billion in savings over 10 years from the program with money that Congress has set-aside for other projects but has never spent.

More than 250 HME stakeholders held 300 meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill during the two-day conference. It was an opportunity for HME providers to not only stump for the new bill but also introduce 87 new members of the House to the industry.

"(These freshman Congressmen) came with passion and enthusiasm," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., told attendees on March 16. "Most don't have a clue about health care. Patients and providers are the ones that ought to make decisions, not the government."

While a previous House bill to repeal competitive bidding picked up 259 co-sponsors, a Senate bill never materialized. But that's no reason not to try again.

"It takes time to build the right support, but the dynamics are looking good," Rep. Thompson told attendees on March 16. "Put a face on the issue and really drive it home."

On March 17, Karyn Estrella wasted no time in doing just that. She stopped Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on the steps outside of his office building.

"Senator, we're here to talk to you today about competitive bidding," said Estrella, executive director of the New England Medical Equipment Dealers association.

Later, Estrella met with an assistant to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry has in the past supported Round 1 moving forward. It appears he hasn't budged, Estrella said.

"(His assistant) told me, 'I don't think this is something (Kerry) would consider sponsoring,'" she said. "I said, 'Well, what is the Senator going to do to keep people in their homes?' It's harder to deal with the senate. They don't seem as close to the issues."

NAIMES, The VGM Group and many state associations also urged providers unable to attend the conference to call or e-mail their members of Congress on March 17. At press time it was too early to tally the number of contacts made, said Wayne Stanfield, NAIMES president.

"My view is that we had a significant number of states that followed through with it," he said. "We got feedback from companies who had responses from their members of Congress."