The votes are in: Senate delays competitive bidding

Sunday, July 6, 2008

WASHINGTON - The Senate late this afternoon voted 69-30--a veto-proof margin, industry sources say--to pass a Medicare bill that would delay national competitive bidding.

The House of Representatives passed the bill 355-59 on June 24.

"It's unbelievable," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "This is truly the biggest victory in the industry's entire history."

The bill is on its way to the president. The president may veto the bill, industry sources say, but the Senate and House have "plenty of votes" to override him.

Or the president may decide not to sign or veto the bill, meaning it goes into law after 10 days, said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products.

"He may do that, knowing we have veto-proof margins in the House and Senate," he said.

The bill delays competitive bidding for 18 to 24 months in exchange for a 9.5% nationwide reimbursement cut for all products included in Round 1. It exempts certain complex rehab products from the program but not the cut. It also allows providers to retain ownership of their oxygen equipment. As part of the 36-month oxygen cap, providers are supposed to transfer ownership of equipment to beneficiaries beginning Jan. 1, 2009.

Additionally, the bill contains no further cuts to home oxygen therapy or power wheelchairs.

The Senate failed, by a slim margin, to move the same bill forward on June 26. During the July 4th recess, however, senators were pressured, mainly by physicians and consumers, to change their minds about the bill, industry sources said. The bill would also prevent a 10.6% cut to physician reimbursement.

Industry sources conceded that they have many to thank for their success in delaying competitive bidding.

"We're preparing a hearty thank you to all the stakeholders, providers, manufacturers, state associations, buying groups--everyone who has worked so hard on this bill," said Michael Reinemer, vice president of communications and policy for AAHomecare.

Provider Sam Clay called the vote "a testimony to AAHomecare" and a positive sign for the future.

"This means to me that we have time to get a new administration in there and, hopefully, that will mean new appointments to (the Department of Health and Human Services) and CMS," said Clay, president of Clay Home Medical. "The people in there now do not have a good feel for what we do."