Stakeholders switch gears at Legislative Conference
WASHINGTON - HME stakeholders last week were thrown a curve ball when, on the eve of the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference, lawmakers announced they were close to a compromise package on the payroll tax cut extension.
Stakeholders had planned to ask lawmakers to include the market-pricing program (MPP), an alternative to competitive bidding, in the package during more than 300 meetings on Capitol Hill Thursday.
"The game's not over," Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare told attendees on Wednesday. "Ask lawmakers, 'This needs to get done. How do we do it?'"
The compromise package, approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate on Friday, includes a delay to a 27% cut in Medicare payments to physicians.
Switching gears, providers spent Thursday asking lawmakers to press the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for a score for MPP. At a breakfast on Thursday morning, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., indicated he would do just that. Throughout the day, others, like Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., also said they would contact the CBO.
Lawmakers appear more favorable toward MPP than H.R. 1041, a bill that would repeal the program. Nowhere was that more evident than during a meeting between members of the New England Medical Equipment Dealers Association (NEMED) and an assistant to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. During last year's visit, Kerry's office indicated he wouldn't be interested in sponsoring a companion bill to H.R. 1041. This year, his aide was familiar with MPP and said the office would try to schedule a bipartisan hearing with the CMS as early as this week.
"I'm hopeful," said Karyn Estrella, executive director of NEMED. "Last year she said to come back with a plan (and we did). I have to trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to."
To be sure, time is very tight for the industry to get anything done, with the Round 2 bidding window closing March 30. Auction expert Prof. Peter Cramton and economics professor Brett Katzman told conference attendees that if MPP passes this year, there is time to put it into place by July 2013, which is when Round 2 kicks off.
The annual conference drew about 300 attendees, including many providers who, spurred by Round 2, made the trip for the first time.
"Round 2 has been crazier then expected," said Eric Cohen, president of Scarborough, Maine-based National Sleep Therapy. "I wasn't hearing the stories. We need simple, meaningful stories and I think I can tell those stories in a way that is compelling."