Texas Rep. to launch next NCB bill

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

WASHINGTON — That Congress would pick up and dust off last year’s competitive bidding proposal has never been in doubt. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) is a diehard booster of putting DMEPOS out to bid. But the who and when of the industry’s next battle with competitive bidding has been something of a sleeper until recently.

In mid-March, HME News confirmed that Joe Barton, a 10-term Republican from Texas, would lead the House charge on this year’s bid to bring out the controversial reimbursement scheme.

Barton’s proposal, due on the Hill around Memorial Day, is likely to emerge as a component of a larger Medicare reform package. But it’s not likely to differ markedly from the competitive bidding legislation (H.R. 4954) introduced by Nancy Johnson (R – Conn.) who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Thomas, say insiders.

Barton’s competitive bidding legislation, however, may contain language that sets a new quality bar for participation as a Medicare DMEPOS supplier.

The Texan’s advocacy for competitive bidding caught many in the HME industry by surprise. “This guy’s coming out of nowhere,” said VGM’s vice president of government affairs, John Gallagher. “He was not on anybody’s radar screen.”

While Barton shares representation of a state that’s been experimenting with competitive bidding, his Waco district is not part of the demonstration project area. But his root interest in competitive bidding goes back to 1997 when he reportedly advocated loudly for its inclusion in the Balanced Budget Amendment.

Still, Barton as standard bearer for the most controversial Medicare plan for DMEPOS does not necessarily mean that Thomas has lost interest in competitive bidding and has left others to carry the staff.

“Make no mistake about it: this is coming from Thomas,” said Dave Williams, Invacare’s director of government relations. “My guess is that Thomas and (Billy) Tauzin (R – La.) have divvied up the bill and said, ‘Okay I took the heat for this last year. You take it this year.’”

Industry sources expect competitive bidding to pass as a House proposal this year, but the industry’s conventional wisdom says the legislation will have a much tougher time getting out of the Senate.

In the meantime, HME providers wait in limbo.

“This makes it a little hard to plan five years in the future,” said Bob Lichtenstein, president of Hollywood Medical Supply in Hollywood, Fla. “My own planning horizon is much shorter than it used to be.” HME