Senate debates healthcare bill

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Senate planned to vote this afternoon on an amendment to remove more than $400 billion in Medicare cuts from its healthcare reform bill.

The amendment, proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has little chance of passing, say HME industry stakeholders.

"It would gut the bill," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare. "I think the Democrats will be able to beat that amendment back."

Whether the McCain amendment even includes home medical equipment is anybody's guess, said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare.

"There's a possibility it does, but nobody has been able to get their hands on the actual amendment language," she said.

The Senate began debate on its 2,000-plus page bill on Tuesday, and it promises to be an arduous process, said Gorski.

"This is something that we are going to be working on for another couple of months at least," he said. "Even once the Senate acts, the House bill and the Senate bill will have to be melded together and voted on again."

The Senate bill contains several HME provisions including:

• Expand Round 2 of national competitive bidding by 21 cities (from 79 to 100). Apply bid rates nationwide by 2016.

• Eliminate the first-month purchase option for standard power wheelchairs beginning Jan. 1, 2011. Pay providers 15% of the purchase price in months one through three, and 6% of the purchase price in months four through 13. Exempt complex power wheelchairs.

• Implement fee schedule updates each year by a “productivity adjustment,” an estimated -1%.

• Exempt from accreditation pharmacies that have less than 5% of their revenues coming from Medicare DMEPOS.