Providers rally behind Hobson-Tanner

Sunday, August 21, 2005

WASHINGTON -- With the congressional recess in full swing and representatives visiting their home territories, HME providers are busy lobbying in favor of the Hobson-Tanner bill -- a bill that would lessen the blow dealt to small providers by national competitive bidding.

AAHomecare, the state associations and other member organizations promptly began mobilizing the industry's grassroots efforts when the bill was introduced in late July. H.R. 3550 needs a groundswell of cosigners in Congress to get attention and get attached to some "moving legislation," said Mike Reinemer, spokesperson for AAHomecare.

"We know that close to 100 serious calls have been made to members of Congress," he said.

The association is trying to keeps tabs on the contacts so it can make follow up calls, however there will be no confirmed number of cosigners until Congress resumes session next month. Industry leaders hope to see more than 200 legislators sign on to the bill.

A spokesman for Rep. Hobson's office said the bill remains a priority for the Congressman during the August break and that he and his aids are in contact with other colleagues about signing the legislation.

At the grassroots level, AAHomecare and the state leader's council have put together talking point and sample letters for providers to use in this process. Reinemer said some suppliers have also hosted site visits for representatives at their businesses.

Clay Home Medical in Petersburg, Va., invited Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., to its showroom last month. Owner Sam Clay brought his employees and some oxygen patients together for the visit.

"We talked about service as a critical piece of what we do," he said. "Quality care is the old cliche that suppliers we will be talking about until doomsday, but there is a difference in how the different companies do it, and we wanted to make that clear."

H.R. 3550 is aimed at revising some of provisions in the MMA on competitive bidding, but it would not rescind the program completely. Its biggest change would instead allow any qualified provider who participated in the bid process to do business at the winning bid's price.

The other provisions of H.R. 3559, all described as beneficiary protections or small supplier protections, would:

- Require CMS to implement quality standards at the same time as competitive bidding.
- Restore some of the appeal rights and due process protections stripped away by the MMA.
- Require CMS to exempt rural areas from competitive bidding.
- Require CMS to demonstrate that there is a likelihood of "significant savings," defined as at least 10%, before a product can be selected for competitive bidding.
- Subject the Program Oversight and Advisory Committee to the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which would ensure that the public has access to written records of the committee's proceedings.
- Require CMS to conduct formal comparability reports before a bid rate is applied to a non-bid area. The MMA gives CMS the ability to apply bid prices to non-bid areas in 2009.

"It's a compromise," said Asela Cuervo, an industry attorney. "It's not going to be 100% competitive bidding, as some in Congress want. It's going to protect two constituencies, the beneficiaries by giving them more choice and small businesses who are voters as well."