NCB: It's a real 'job killer'

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I’ve interviewed Walt Gorski, AAHomecare’s vice president of government affairs, about national competitive bidding dozens of times. But when I interviewed him in mid-March, Gorski said something I hadn’t heard before.

The industry had just learned that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West. Va., planned to hold a hearing on competitive bidding on April 1. Here’s the thing about Rockefeller: He’s chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and “a competitive bidding friendly guy.” Back in June, he and a handful of other senators wrote letters that opposed delaying the program.

Until now the industry has had pretty good luck with hearings. Most recently, in February, the House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee held a hearing on competitive bidding, during which Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., stated: “We need to get CMS to scrap the program and start over.”

That was a coup, no doubt, but let’s face it, the SBA has nothing on the Senate Finance Committee. One holds some of the purse strings; the other does not. At Rockefeller’s hearing, the stakes could be high, higher than they’ve ever been before.

So during that phone call in mid-March, Gorski was discussing the HME industry’s strategy for the hearing (AAHomecare has asked to testify). That’s when he called competitive bidding a “job killer.” I’ve heard the program called many things over the years, but never this.

Sure, the argument’s not a new one. Industry stakeholders and providers have argued for some time that competitive bidding will put providers out of business. In that vein, they’ve called the program “selective contracting” and a “government mandated consolidation program.”

But, again, never a “job killer.” The argument may be the same, but the label is new, and I think it’s more effective.

These days, you can’t sit down with a newspaper without reading about skyrocketing unemployment rates (Currently, about 12.5 million people are out of work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). If there’s one thing members of Congress don’t want to be associated with during a recession, it’s killing jobs. If they are, they know come election time, it’s their job that’s going to be killed.

Gorski didn’t make a big deal out of calling competitive bidding a “job killer,” but he should have.

If, like Gorski said, “We need to start calling this program what it is,” this may be one of the most effective ways to do it.