Rehab carve out earns sympathy from legislators

Sunday, May 28, 2006

WASHINGTON - More than 50 NCART members and consumers pounded the pavement on Capitol Hill last week, making 100-plus visits with legislative aides to drum up support for a bill that would carve out complex rehab and assistive technology from national competitive bidding (NCB).

H.R. 4994, sponsored by Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., earned high sympathy marks from aides, reported Sharon Hildebrandt, executive director of NCART.

"We had some folks bring in before and after pictures of a good and bad fit of a wheelchair and seating system, and that proved to be very effective," she said. "After seeing pictures, they understood that rehab is about different types of head and leg positioning. They understood that it's more than just a plain, ordinary wheelchair."

Supporters of the carve-out bill, which was introduced March 16, argue that complex rehab products are evaluated, fitted, configured, adjusted or programmed to meet unique needs, making them inappropriate for competitive bidding.

With the fly-in under its belt, NCART must now determine whether sympathy will result in co-sponsorships. Legislative aides said they would brief legislators about the carve-out bill in the next few weeks, and members plan to follow-up with thank-you notes and phone calls, Hildebrandt said.

But it's less about getting the most co-sponsors than getting the right co-sponsors, said Simon Margolis, an NCART member and vice president for clinical and professional development for National Seating & Mobility. The bill's off to a good start: Rep. Lewis is a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

NCART has also received "initial support" from Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., also a member of the Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus. Ramstad has invited NCART to address the caucus, Margolis said.

The overall goal: Get the carve-out bill attached to a larger bill, hopefully one that's non-controversial.

Before NCART gets that far, however, it will likely face another hurdle. Although the House of Representatives isn't required to determine the potential cost or "score" of its bills, "it still wants to know what's going on," Margolis said.

"It's going to be interesting," he said. "We know that it's not going to cost any more than what we're doing right now, but the question is how much will it not save?"