Oxygen, competitive bidding: Stakeholders share new details

Sunday, April 26, 2009

BALTIMORE - Industry stakeholders told attendees at the HME Exposition & Conference last week that they expect a bill to be introduced in the next few weeks that would repeal the 36-month oxygen cap.

Industry stakeholders are working with Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., the lead sponsor of last year's H.R. 621, to introduce the bill, according to John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. Another supporter of the effort: Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C.

Once the bill is introduced, Price and other supporters have three options, he said: They can try to move it forward as a standalone bill--"a heavy lift," Gallagher said--or they can try to attach it to a healthcare reform bill or a doc fix bill, both expected to come together later this year.

H.R. 621 had more than 140 co-sponsors last year.

Also during the "Washington Update," industry stakeholders told attendees that several Democrats in the House of Representatives are interested in sponsoring an oxygen reform bill--if it doesn't cost anything.

The industry's current plan is budget neutral, according to Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. It's based on the same amount of total reimbursement--it's just divvied up differently. Providers would be reimbursed less for non-ambulatory patients and more for ambulatory patients, she said.

AAHomecare plans to draft legislation in the next few weeks, Bachenheimer said.

In addition to oxygen, industry stakeholders discussed the future of national competitive bidding. Even if the program were kicked off in May 2009, CMS wouldn't be able to implement it until April 2010, according to Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility.

An unnamed CMS official told the Wall Street Journal recently that the agency wouldn't implement competitive bidding until Jan. 1, 2011, Johnson said.

Johnson, Bachenheimer and Gallagher are part of an AAHomecare task force charged with working on plans to significantly tweak competitive bidding or develop an alternative to the program.