Message to providers: Speak up on competitive bidding

Sunday, July 26, 2009

WASHINGTON - A pair of "Dear Colleague" letters that cite concerns with the national competitive bidding program haven't gained much traction.

The letters are authored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and addressed to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Wyden's letter calls for adding an "any willing provider" provision to the program. Schrader's letter echoes that suggestion, and also raises concerns with reimbursement cuts for complex rehab. So far, no lawmakers have signed on to either letter.

That's not good.

Don't let lawmakers think the industry isn't concerned with NCB, said Robert Lee, health policy & government affairs analyst for Portland, Ore.-based Care Medical and Rehabilitation Equipment. The provider worked with both lawmakers on the letters and sent an e-mail alert to more than two dozen national and state associations asking them to spread the word, but got little response.

"Without the support of member organizations and their memberships, the message from our industry will be a very week and meager squeak on NCB," said Lee.

NCB remains a critical concern for the industry, but it's tough right now to get lawmakers' attention, said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

"We have a fair amount of folks in the House who don't support NCB at all," she said. "But, health care reform is so all-consuming right now that it's very difficult to talk about anything else with these people."

The industry, too, has a lot on its plate, including three separate oxygen reform plans.

That doesn't mean NCB has been forgotten, said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare.

"We are very committed to eliminating NCB," he said. "Frankly, if it can't be addressed for providers in the first round, then they won't care about the first-month purchase option or oxygen reform because there is a real possibility they won't be around."

Care Medical isn't located in one of the first 10 competitive bid areas, but the program will cause a ripple effect among other regions and other payers, Lee said.

"This is a very serious issue for the industry and no provider or supplier nationwide will be untouched," he said.

The signature deadline for both letters is 5 p.m., EST on Wednesday, July 29. Providers are urged to have their lawmakers contact Mary Polce-Lynch at Wyden's office via e-mail:; and Jon Stern at Schrader's office: