Task force seeks to 'dismantle' competitive bidding

Sunday, November 23, 2008

ARLINGTON, Va. - AAHomecare's task force to develop an alternative to national competitive bidding has gone to work.

"Without an alternative, the bidding program will start up again," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy.

The association announced in October that it would create the task force. A group of about 25 representatives, including providers, manufacturers, buying groups and state associations, met via conference call later that month.

The task force hopes to present ideas to members of Congress in early January.

"I think we need to highlight the problems from a quality and service perspective," said Don Clayback, vice president of government relations for The MED Group and a representative of the task force. "Without competition, there's no patient choice and there's nothing to make sure beneficiaries get the right equipment and service."

Before it gets too far in front of itself, however, the task force must first determine the cost of eliminating competitive bidding.

"AAHomecare has a statistician on retainer looking at some of the different costs, because until we know the cost to eliminate competitive bidding, it's difficult for us to talk in any kind of detail," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products and a representative of the task force.

If the task force can persuade Congress to carve out product categories from the program, as it did with complex rehab in July, the cost of eliminating competitive bidding will continue to decrease. Possible future changes to reimbursement and policy for oxygen, for example, could lead Congress or CMS to carve out the product category, representatives say.

"To completely dismantle the program is the prime component of the task force," said Alan Landauer, chairman of Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based Landauer Metropolitan Care and a representative of the task force.

With healthcare reform a priority on Capitol Hill for 2009, the task force sees opportunities and challenges down the road, representatives say. One opportunity: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., will retain his post as chairman of the health subcommittee.

"He is probably the most vocal supporter for working with the industry to come up with an alternative to competitive bidding," Johnson said.