Legislative line items: Competitive bidding, healthcare reform

Saturday, December 12, 2009

WASHINGTON - The number of co-sponsors for a bill that would end national competitive bidding has "jumped dramatically," AAHomecare reported last week.

H.R. 3790 now has 107 co-sponsors, buoyed by a recent "Shutdown the Switchboard" event sponsored by The VGM Group and more than 100 congressional visits made by officials from AAHomecare and state/regional associations. That means about one in four members in the House of Representatives supports the bill.

"This is terrific progress, and we hope to bring another 100 representatives to this important bill," stated Tyler Wilson, AAHomecare's president, in a bulletin to members.

The industry's goal: 218 co-sponsors, a majority or representatives.

The Texas Alliance of Home Care Services (TAHCS) hopes to give H.R. 3790 another boost on Dec. 15, when it sponsors a phone-a-thon. The association is asking providers, consumers and doctors to call 24 representatives in the state that haven't sponsored the bill. It has scripts and "points to know and raise" available.

The industry's efforts received somewhat of a blow last week, when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that states CMS has taken steps to improve competitive bidding, including reducing the financial documentation requirements and making bid instructions clearer and more understandable (Read the GAO's report at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-27).

AAHomecare criticized the GAO's report in a bulletin to members, saying "deep structural design flaws" remain in the program. Those include reduced access to equipment and services, and widespread business failures and loss of jobs.

The Accredited Medical Equipment Providers Association (AMEPA), in a bulletin to members, pointed out that the GAO's report states Round 1 of competitive bidding resulted in a 88% reduction in the number of providers nationwide. Miami had the largest reduction: 91% of oxygen providers, 91% of support surface providers, 94% of complex wheelchair providers and 94% of mail order diabetic providers.

Healthcare reform

When it comes to last week's debate in the Senate over its healthcare reform bill, it was a roller-coaster week for wheelchair providers.

The high: On Dec. 6, Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., filed an amendment to preserve the first-month purchase option for standard power wheelchairs. The amendment, which the industry helped craft, would allow CMS to treat purchases like rentals and collect money back from providers, but only if beneficiaries use their wheelchairs for less than 13 months.

The low: A few days later, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the amendment would save Medicare only $200 million over 10 years, effectively killing it. The Senate seeks to save $800 million over 10 years by eliminating the first-month purchase option.

"There's a potential small window to get another amendment," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "Sen. Specter is continuing to push on our behalf."