House Democrats have agreed to drop their efforts to include Medicare-related provisions in the bill extending the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). For DME providers, this development means that, at least for now, changes that would have adversely affected oxygen and power-wheelchair users are off the table. These provisions would have eliminated the first-month purchase option for power mobility devices and reduced the oxygen cap from 36 to 18 months.
Before the Labor Day congressional break, the Senate and House passed different versions of the SCHIP reauthorization bill. The Senate version dealt only with SCHIP, while the House tacked on extensive Medicare provisions, including the oxygen and power-chair changes that were opposed by the DME industry. To get the bill to the White House, the House will vote on the Senate version this week. The bill faces a presidential veto because Mr. Bush opposes expanding the SCHIP program, which would extend coverage to an additional 10 million children now without health insurance.
If the Senate’s SCHIP reauthorization is in veto danger, the SCHIP bill loaded with the House Medicare expansion would have stood no chance at all, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic chairmen of the two committees with Medicare jurisdiction opted not to press for a conference committee to meld the divergent Senate and House bills. Democrats also want to give the president a clean SCHIP bill to veto, as it will be easier to use against the Republicans in the 2008 than if Bush could use the Medicare add-ons as justification of the veto.
The fight isn’t over, though. The offending oxygen and PMD changes may well be folded into a separate Medicare bill later this fall. If it’s not included in that bill, a fix for a Medicare formula that will reduce doctors’ Medicare-reimbursement fees next year by 10 percent is likely to move swiftly. The bill’s sponsors might very well be open to attaching oxygen and PMD changes that the DME industry strongly opposes. Tanner-Hobson, H.R. 1845, would blunt the effect of competitive bidding on smaller DME suppliers, might also hitch a ride on one of the Medicare bills.