SCHIP compromise unlikely, says former CMS official

Sunday, August 12, 2007

WASHINGTON - A former CMS official cast doubt last week on whether Congress and the president will agree on a five-year expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). A bill recently passed by the House of Representatives proposes funding the expansion, in part, by implementing an 18-month oxygen cap and eliminating the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs.

It's more likely that Congress and the president will agree on a shorter expansion of the program, said Leslie Norwalk, the former acting administrator of CMS, in an interview with Congressional Quarterly HealthBeat.

"I don't know how they're going to get five years," she said. "Something shorter, that is less money--the president will have a harder time vetoing it."

The House and Senate have proposed $50 billion and $35 billion five-year expansions of SCHIP, respectively (In his budget, the president proposed a $5 billion expansion). Leaders of the House and Senate, when they return to Washington, D.C., in September, will hammer out a compromise and send it to the president. The Senate bill includes no HME cuts.

The HME industry planned to take advantage of Congress' August recess to ask legislators to voice their disapproval of the oxygen and power wheelchair provisions in the House bill. While the House's Ways and Means Committee and the Senate's Finance and Energy and Commerce committees have jurisdiction over spending, providers should bend the ears of any legislator who will listen, said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

"The representatives and senators on those committees need to hear from other legislators who are hearing a lot of concerns," he said. "As leaders begin discussing a compromise (in September), they'll have that in the backs of their minds."