Uncertainty surrounds competitive bidding delay

Sunday, June 29, 2008

WASHINGTON - The home medical equipment industry on Friday scrambled to shift gears after the Senate failed to drum up enough support for a Medicare bill that would, among other things, delay national competitive bidding.

The Senate on Thursday fell two votes short of the 60 votes it needed to move the bill forward. Members of Congress left Capitol Hill over the weekend for their July 4th recess.

"There are other efforts underway, because at this point in time, it doesn't look like any legislation is going to be passed prior to the implementation of competitive bidding," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs, on Friday.

CMS plans to kick off competitive bidding tomorrow.

On Friday, industry stakeholders were working with "a band of Republican senators" to try and get the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and the Bush administration to agree to a short-term delay. The delay would buy time until members of Congress return to Capitol Hill July 8.

"The handwriting's on the wall," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "Competitive bidding may go into effect for a week, yeah, but then it's going to get stopped."

The Senate's difficulties in moving forward with a Medicare bill have nothing to do with delaying competitive bidding. The current version of the bill proposes cuts to Medicare Advantage, a program some Senate Republicans and the president don't want to touch. The cuts would help to prevent a July 1 cut to physician reimbursement.

"I hope every member of Congress feels the heat," Bachenheimer said. "We're mad; physicians are rip-roaring mad."

The House of Representatives has already passed a Medicare bill that delays competitive bidding for 18 to 24 months in exchange for a 9.5% nationwide reimbursement cut for all products included in Round 1. Its bill, which doesn't include further cuts to oxygen or power wheelchairs, was the basis of the Senate bill.

"The industry has done a remarkable job to get where it's at," said John Shirvinsky, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (PAMS). "It's no time to give up now."