Rep. Lewis goes to bat for NCART

Sunday, April 30, 2006

WASHINGTON - NCART's goal to carve out complex rehab and assistive technology products from national competitive bidding (NCB) now has legs.
Rep. Ron Lewis, R-Ky., a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on March 16 that, if passed, would exempt medically necessary adaptive seating, positioning and mobility products and speech generation devices from NCB.
That's "great news" for providers like Tom McEnany, owner of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wheelchair Plus, and the patients he serves. He predicts competitively bidding complex rehab products would leave patients without the right equipment and, possibly more importantly, without anyone to fix it.
"The patients would be the biggest losers," he said.
The introduction of H.R. 4994, although important, is just step one. NCART must now work to get co-sponsors--"We want hundreds," said Sharon Hildebrandt, the association's executive director--and get a companion bill introduced in the Senate.
Supporters know it won't be easy.
"I don't think there's (any bill) that doesn't have a tough time these days," McEnany said.
To help boost its efforts, NCART scheduled a congressional fly-in for May 22-23 to educate legislators on the complexity of rehab products and to collect co-sponsors for the bill.
While Hildebrandt said it was too early, at press time in mid-April, to know how many rehab providers would attend the fly-in, H.R. 4994 enjoys widespread support, including that of AAHomecare's rehab council (See story page 38). Supporters argue that complex rehab products are evaluated, fitted, configured, adjusted or programmed to meet unique needs, making them inappropriate for competitive bidding.
Without a carve out, providers envision a world where "all people get the same equipment in the same size, whether it works for them or not," said Larry Scott, vice president of sales for the Oak Creek, Wis.-based Rehab Tech.
Ron Kieschnik, owner of the Houston-based Seating Profiles, agreed: "The only way competitive bidding works is if the bidders can identify the components being bid with enough specificity so that bidders can compare apples to apples. But rehab isn't a commodity."