NCB bills: 'Let's keep the heat on'

Sunday, October 1, 2006

WASHINGTON - It's do or die time for the HME industry's efforts to minimize the blow of national competitive bidding, at least for this year.

With bills now introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the industry planned a full-court press for the weeks before and during the Nov. 7 elections to collect as many co-sponsors as possible for the bills.

Once Congress reconvenes, legislators will work on several omnibus bills, including one for the Department of Health and Human Services, and then close up shop for the year. If H.R. 3559 and S. 3920 have a chance of getting attached to a larger bill in the 109th Congress, it's that one, several industry sources said.

"I think our chances are pretty good," said Wayne Grau, Pride Mobility's senior area manager for New England, who has conducted grassroots efforts nationwide. "But providers have to get out there and meet with their senators. Let's keep the heat on."

Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., introduced S. 3920 on Sept. 21. The bill, the Medicare Durable Medical Equipment Access Act, is identical to H.R. 3559, the Hobson-Tanner bill, which has 145 co-sponsors.

Only Hatch and Conrad have the power to attach S. 3920 to a larger bill, and the more co-sponsors they have behind them, the greater their impetus, industry sources said.

But, at press time, there was still one missing piece to the puzzle: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) must still determine S. 3920's potential cost or "score," a requirement of Senate bills but not House bills.

Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, the industry plans to rely on a study commissioned by The VGM Group to refute CMS's theory that allowing any willing and qualified provider to participate in NCB would reduce its estimated cost savings. (See HME News, September 2006.)

While collecting co-sponsors for H.R. 3559 and S. 3920, the industry plans to "plant the seed" of resurrecting both bills in the next legislative session--just in case, said John Gallagher, VGM's vice president of government relations.