Rehab providers 'pull together' to fight competitive bidding

Sunday, April 27, 2008

WASHINGTON - Rehab providers turned out in full force last week, making 4,451 calls and more than 200 visits to legislators to lobby for a bill that would exclude complex rehab from national competitive bidding.

It didn't really hit rehab providers just how bad things would be under competitive bidding until they found out in March that CMS planned to reduce reimbursement for complex rehab by 15% in Round 1 of the program, industry sources said.

"I am so happy to see that we're finally pulling together," said Mark Schmeler, a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, who made three visits with legislators. "I'm pretty blown away by it, actually. I guess you have to wait until the 11th hour for people to realize they have to do something."

The April 22 call-in was spearheaded by Paul Bergantino, an NCART board member and president of ATG Rehab in Newington, Conn. The congressional visits were organized by NRRTS and NCART as part of their Continuing Education and Legislative Advocacy Conference April 23-25 near Washington, D.C.

Going into the call-in and visits, rehab providers had 41 co-sponsors for H.R. 2231. They hoped their lobbying efforts would pay off in additional co-sponsors for that bill and, almost more importantly, sponsors for a companion bill in the Senate.

Rehab providers, Bergantino said, blew the doors off his goal for the call-in: 1,000 calls. Providers in states like California, Florida, Missouri, Oregon and Texas made hundreds of calls.

"Our goal was to have multiple touches," Bergantino said. "We knew when we started getting calls from legislators saying, 'Stop the calls; we got your message,' or 'Stop the calls; we're with you,' that we were being effective."

In both their calls and visits, rehab providers felt their message was more positively received than in previous attempts.

"They're not happy with the information they're getting from CMS about competitive bidding," Bergantino said. "They don't feel like CMS is answering their questions, and when they do, they don't like their answers. Hopefully, that will help us make some headway."

Weesie Walker, president of NRRTS and the manager of a National Seating & Mobility Branch in Atlanta, agreed.

"Staffers kept telling us, 'You're definitely on our radar,'" she said.