NCB: Conrad, Hatch introduce Senate companion bill

Sunday, May 20, 2007

WASHINGTON - With less than a year before national competitive bidding kicks off, the industry now has its bases covered in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, members of the powerful Finance Committee, introduced a bill last week that, like the Tanner-Hobson bill in the House, would soften the blow of NCB.

Conrad and Hatch introduced the same bill last fall. If passed, it would exempt from the program rural areas with populations under 500,000; allow small providers who don't receive contracts to continue providing HME at the competitive bid rate; restore the rights of participating providers to administrative and judicial review; and eliminate products that don't result in at least 10% savings.

"In the last legislative session, the bill didn't have much time to take hold," said Pride Mobility's Wayne Grau, who has conducted nationwide grassroots efforts to fight competitive bidding. "Now we have some time, and it's really about getting providers to contact their senators and educate them on this bill."

Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., introduced the Tanner-Hobson bill, H.R. 1845, on March 28. It has 26 co-sponsors.

The Senate bill doesn't have a few of the bells and whistles included in this year's House bill. For example: the "any willing provider" provision that would allow any provider to participate in competitive bidding, so long as he agrees to submit a bid below the Medicare fee schedule amount and meets other requirements; and the provision that would require Medicare to study the program's impact on beneficiaries and providers, and report back to Congress.

"There were discussions about the various provisions (in the Tanner-Hobson bill), but the sense was that the language from last year was the way that (Conrad and Hatch) wanted to go," said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare. "We're very happy to have this bill introduced."

Because the bills are slightly different, if they get attached to a larger bill, they will have go through a conference session where House and Senate members hash out one bill.

"That's a problem we'd love to have," Reinemer said.

Grau noted that legislators will be in their home districts at the end of May, for July 4th weekend and for all of August. He encouraged providers to set up site visits.