Will HME escape cuts?

Monday, December 31, 2007

WASHINGTON – The Senate planned to break for the weekend Dec. 14 without passing any Medicare legislation, sparing the HME industry from further reimbursement cuts for a few more days and possibly much longer, said industry sources.
As the year drew to a close, the Senate was working furiously to pass a Medicare bill that eliminates a 10% reimbursement cut for doctors beginning Jan. 1. To help offset that, the Senate Finance Committee discussed cutting Medicare reimbursement for oxygen concentrators from $198 to $122 a month. Part of that reduction would be used to bump reimbursement for portable tanks and delivery from $35 to $77 a month. That means providers who supply a patient with a concentrator and portable oxygen would see their monthly reimbursement drop from $232 to $199. There would be no change in reimbursement for portable oxygen concentrators and transfilling concentrators. (It’s unclear if the Senate would also propose eliminating the first month purchase option for power wheelchairs.)
At press time on Dec. 18, it looked more and more like that scenario would not play out, at least this year. Senate Finance Committee members were considering a small, non-controversial Medicare bill that would postpone for three to six months the scheduled physician reimbursement cut, said Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare’s senior vice president of government relations. If that passes, it most likely will not include any HME reimbursement cuts, she said.
“If they do a mini doctor fix, if they feel politically inclined to help doctors again next year, they are going to be in there,” Bachenheimer said. “From what we are hearing, 2008 is going to be an unusual year. Despite the elections, there could be a big Medicare package.”
If that happens, there’s a good chance lawmakers will look again at cutting oxygen reimbursement and eliminating the first month purchase option for power wheelchairs, say industry watchers.
Seth Johnson, Pride Mobility’s director of government affairs, said he’d heard from members of the Finance Committee that only a bare bones Medicare package could pass in 2007. Other members said that a bigger package could be hammered out.
“I think the odds are more in favor of doing something this year, even if it is a very scaled-back bill,” Johnson said. “Continuing into next year gets complicated, especially rolling the physician fix back retroactively.”