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In the archives, in search of Baucus

In the archives, in search of Baucus

A few folks that I talked to today were all abuzz about an announcement made by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., that he will retire in 2014.

This is big news, obviously, with Baucus the chairman of the influential Senate Finance Committee, which, among other things, oversees Medicare and Medicaid. He's also the sixth Democrat to announce his retirement, giving momentum to Republicans trying to retake control of the Senate.

But in our small universe called the HME industry, what does this mean? Is Baucus a friend or foe?

Sifting through our archives, Baucus popped up in a number of stories:

Baucus in 2010 had this to say about the, on average, 32% cut in Medicare reimbursement as part of Round 1 of competitive bidding: “Today we are seeing that transparency and competitiveness in Medicare results in a 32 percent reduction in costs, just from the first stage of this program alone. I'm very pleased with these strong results from making Medicare a more competitive and transparent purchaser and America's seniors and taxpayers should be as well.”


Speaking of competitive bidding, Baucus in 2009 was the driver behind including a provision in the healthcare reform bill to expand the number of areas in Round 2 to 91.

Yikes squared.

And speaking of healthcare reform, he was also one of the drivers behind provisions to include a 2.3% tax on medical device manufacturers (most HME was left out) and to eliminate the first-month purchase option for power wheelchairs (that stayed in, and continues to be painful for providers).

But it hasn't been all bad.

Baucus (along with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa) went to bat for pharmacies in 2010, asking the Department of Health and Human Services to cut them some slack in meeting the accreditation requirement (they got it).

Baucus also went to bat for home infusion providers in 2009, admitting that Congress needs to do something about the lack of Medicare coverage for the therapy (bill after bill has been dropped, to no avail).

Still, with Baucus staying put for several more months and with his track record on competitive bidding, the industry's biggest battle with him may be yet to come. The industry is redoubling its efforts to replace competitive bidding with a market-pricing program (MPP) before CMS implements Round 2 on July 1. What will he do, if anything?

The next question becomes: Who will replace Baucus as chairman? If the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, the next in line is Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He's been tight lipped about his potential promotion, but here's what he told The New York Times:

“My bottom line is, the country is expecting the Finance Committee over the next two years to focus on the country's priorities and that's improving the fiscal picture, fixing this broken, dysfunctional mess of a tax code and dealing with what is a demographic tsunami with huge implications for Medicare. I'm just going to leave it at that.”

A demographic tsunami indeed. If competitive bidding moves forward, it may be a deadly one.


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