Sources: Senate Medicare bill calls for CPI freeze on HME

Sunday, June 8, 2003

June 9, 2003

WASHINGTON - It appears likely that the Senate’s version of Medicare reform legislation, which may be introduced as early as tomorrow, will not include a proposal to roll out national competitive bidding for durable medical equipment.

Instead, the Senate Finance Committee’s bill calls for a seven-year CPI freeze for DME, according to intelligence gathered by AAHomecare.

“ We have not seen the language,” said AAHomecare’s senior vice president of relations, Asela Cuervo, “but we have been working on the assumption that the 10-year [freeze] would get scaled back at some point, and it seems like maybe that’s been the case.”

Last week, scores of AAHomecare members called on members of Congress and specifically asked senators to not support Medicare reform that called for competitive bidding.

While the HME industry may have skirted competitive bidding in the Senate, it’s all but certain that the House will introduce a Medicare reform bill that includes competitive bidding. Eventually, the Senate version and the House version will meet in a conference committee, where competitive bidding could win new life in a compromise package that goes to the president.

“ That’s where the horse-trading happens,” one Washington insider said of conference committee negotiations. “You have any number of possibilities. [Rep. Bill] Thomas (R.-Calif.) is such a bulldog on this stuff, so the question is ‘Will [Senate Finance Chair Charles] Grassely (R.-Iowa) stick to his guns or will he trade up the CPI for some rural health thing that he wants. It’s literally horse-trading behind closed doors with the administration at the table as well.”

The Senate had proposed a 10-year freeze on the CPI for DME in May, but lawmakers backed off that plan during negotiations with the House.