Medicare cuts still on table

Sunday, August 5, 2007

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Aug. 1 that would make deep reimbursement cuts to power wheelchairs and oxygen therapy as part of an effort to fund other healthcare spending. A Senate version of the bill includes no HME cuts. Before Congress can send a final bill to the president, House and Senate leaders must hammer out a compromise.

By reducing oxygen reimbursement from 36 to 18 months (except for portable oxygen concentrators and other “oxygen generating portable equipment”), the House bill would save Medicare $1.8 million over five years. The bill also calls for eliminating the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs, which would save $600 million over five years.

The House reimbursement cuts are part of a $50 million package to expand healthcare coverage to 6 million low-income children and eliminate a 10% reimbursement cut for doctors.

Besides cutting oxygen and power wheelchair reimbursement, the House bill would pay for the new spending by raising the federal tax on cigarettes by 45 cents a pack and decreasing payments to Medicare Advantage plans. The Senate version proposes to pay for the additional spending by raising the cigarette tax by 61 cents.

While nothing’s a given, the industry does have strong allies in the Senate that oppose additional reimbursement to home medical equipment. Those allies include Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who on July 27 sent a letter to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Finance. In the letter, Voinovich reiterated his opposition of further Medicare cuts to home oxygen and power wheelchair reimbursement.