Senate bill would lessen NCB's blow to small providers

Sunday, September 24, 2006

WASHINGTON - Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) introduced a bill last week that would make competitive bidding for durable medical equipment less onerous for small independent providers.

The bill, the Medicare Durable Medical Equipment Access Act, S. 3920, is identical to H.R. 3559, the Hobson-Tanner bill, which currently has 145 cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.

AAHomecare worked with both senators to move the bill forward but the work by individual homecare providers in Utah and providers and the state association in North Dakota were instrumental in the success. Pride Mobility, Invacare, and VGM also played key roles.

AAHomecare issued the following report on the new Senate bill:

In his introductory remarks, Sen. Hatch discussed the importance of the bill for preserving access to homecare in rural areas and allowing small businesses to participate in Medicare if they qualify and meet the competitively bid price. He noted that the MMA allows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to contract with only as many providers as the Secretary deems necessary to meet the demand of an area.
"Any provider not awarded a contract would be prohibited from participating in Medicare for up to three years," Hatch said. "This bill would allow applicable small businesses that did not receive a contract to continue to provide durable medical equipment in Medicare at the competitive acquisition bid rate."

Sen. Hatch cited conversations he had had with homecare providers in Utah who expressed concern about their ability to stay in business and continue to provide customers with a high quality of service. "I heard from several small medical equipment companies in my home state of Utah for several years on this issue and they made very convincing arguments. I strongly urge my colleagues to talk to their constituents back home who own small durable medical equipment companies. I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation so that Medicare beneficiaries will continue to receive quality care at affordable prices for their medical supplies."

Upon introducing the bill, Sen. Conrad said, "This bill responds to the concerns I heard from seniors and suppliers in North Dakota about the negative impact competitive bidding could have on the ability of DME suppliers in rural States to remain viable." He noted that, "These provisions are small steps, but they will ensure that beneficiaries in rural areas have access to the medical equipment they need." Conrad concluded by saying, "While we should pursue options for making the Medicare program more efficient, we must also protect access to care. I believe this bill achieves the appropriate balance between these two goals. I urge all of my colleagues to support this important legislation."

One of the Utah providers who worked with Sen. Hatch on the bill is Jay Broadbent, President of Alpine Home Medical in Salt Lake City. He commented, "We are excited that Senator Hatch has introduced this bill. Senator Hatch has always been a friend to the home health industry. He has a sound understanding of how home medical equipment is part of the solution to the nation's health care problems."