On Ice: Despite Winning Cosponsors, Hobson-Tanner Sits Idle in Committees

As lobbyists continued pushing last week for House action on Tanner-Hobson, a companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Their Medicare Durable Medical Equipment Access Act of 2007 (S. 1428)would achieve the same thing as Tanner-Hobson, which many see as independent providers' salvation from competitive bidding. Among other things, the legislation would allow providers to continue serving Medicare beneficiaries so long as their prices are not more than 10 percent higher than those of the bid winner.

Tanner-Hobson sits in the three committees in the House, and, despite pressure from big players like Invacare Chairman and CEO Mal Mixon, is expected to stay there. In May, Mixon wrote to 28 House members asking them to sign on to Tanner-Hobson. Mixon argued that it is possible to protect DMEs while not undermining the the Medicare Modernization Act's competitive-acquisition requirements.

In a letter sent last week to 28 members of the House of Representatives, Mixon urged support for H.R. 1845, known as the Tanner-Hobson bill, to "protect beneficiary access and enable small providers to continue to serve Medicare beneficiaries."

H.R. 1845 "seeks to make reasonable changes to the structure of the competitive acquisition in order ensure beneficiaries' access to DME is maintained, protect small business providers of DME, and foster a dynamic marketplace for Medicare reimbursed DME," Mixon wrote. "The most innovative and cost-effective health care marketplace is one in which a large number of suppliers/providers are competing for business. Approximately 80 percent of DME suppliers are small businesses that are ill equipped to participate in this federal contracting process."

Capitol Hill sources said this week that the prevailing view now is to wait and see what happens as competitive bidding rolls out to the first 10 cities through the rest of this year. There are exceptions, they say, but Congress is generally loathe to meddle in the regulatory implementation of the laws it passes, especially when harm is forecast, but hasn't actually happened.

House and Senate staffers working on health care issues say the best chance for action will come next year if things go badly with competitive bidding and lawmakers attach the Hobson-Tanner language to an election-year package of Medicare fixes designed to appeal to voting seniors.

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

HME Business Podcast