Complex-Rehab Exemption: Interest and Sympathy, But Little Action

Members of Congress are proving slow to respond to pleas from the DME community for relief from national competitive bidding. Two congressmen dropped a bill in the hopper on May 9 that would exempt complex rehabilitation technology. Better known is the Tanner-Hobson legislation that would let DMEs continue serving Medicare patients even if they don't win a competitive bid. Neither bill has seen action, nor do informed congressional sources expect movement soon.

Representatives Tom Allen (D-ME) and Ron Lewis (R-KY) authored the complex-rehab bill. Like Tanner-Hobson, it was originally introduced in the previous Congress, where it died without making progress. While their staffs aren't saying whether other representatives have yet signed on as cosponsors, response is thought to be mild. However, Sharon Hildebrandt of the National Coalition for Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology (NCART) said that representative she's talked to are enthusiastic once they understand the issue.

"Their response is good once we explain what complex rehab is," she said late last week. Hildebrandt helped NCART members make the rounds on Capital Hill about 10 days ago. She said that seeing the complex and customized technology that is the foundation of complex rehab made it clear to representatives and staffers why it doesn't belong in competitive bidding.

"We're working on getting sponsors for the bill in the Senate," Hildebrandt said, "but a lot of people are saying, 'Let's see what happens.'"

A House source who asked not to be identified said the process is just getting started. Recalling that the same bill stalled in the previous Congress, this staffer conceded that a legislative strategy remains unclear and that any action will have to happen in committee.

Medicare is the jurisdiction of the Ways & Means and Energy and Commerce committees in the House, and the Finance Committee in the Senate. While there is talk both on the Hill and among disability-advocacy-group lobbyists about a bill that would fix a number of Medicare issues, nothing serious is on the horizon.

Surveying the dim legislative outlook, one House staffer lamented that complex-rehab patients may not be spared more Medicare woes. "That the point," she said. "This is an incredibly vulnerable population. And no one has even done a study or a demonstration project to see what the effect of this will be on them."

This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of HME Business.

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