HME providers testified before Congress this week regarding why CMS’s competitive bidding program would hurt U.S. patient care and jobs. The testimony was part of the American Association for Homecare’s Feb. 11 Washington Fly-in, and the congressional hearing was called by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC), who chairs the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural and Urban Entrepreneurship.
“We compete on the basis of quality and service, since Medicare sets reimbursement rates,” said Georgie Blackburn, vice president of HME provider BLACKBURN’S in testimony before Congress. “However, the CMS-designed bidding program is anti-competitive and fundamentally flawed. This government-mandated consolidation of the marketplace will lead to significant job losses. This program will force small providers out of business, often family businesses that have been serving their communities for decades.”
“We need to get CMS to scrap the program and start over,” Rep. Shuler commented at the hearing.
Other witnesses included Rob Brant from the Accredited Medical Equipment Providers of America; Bill Griffin from Griffin Home Health Care, Charlotte, NC, on behalf of the North Carolina Association for Medical Equipment Services; Gerald Sloan from Progressive Medical Equipment in Lenexa, Kan.; Wayne E. Stanfield from the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers; and Laurence D. Wilson from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
The morning of the Fly-in, former HME provider owner and current member of Congress, Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) told homecare providers gathered for the lobbying effort to stress the importance of service to patients when speaking with members of Congress.
“You are one of the primary points of contact for patients, especially in rural areas,” Ross said. “Use examples about how these issues affect patients.”
Ross, one of the leaders of the fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, stressed his support for resolving the 36-month oxygen cap problem and suspending the competitive bidding program, and reminded fly-in participants about the importance of meeting with members of Congress and their staff regarding HME issues. He also suggested inviting members of Congress to visit patients’ homes, since patients can best underscore the importance of quality homecare.
Fly-in participants brought with them an oxygen “dear colleague” letter that was was spearheaded by Representatives Tom Price (R-Ga.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), and Shuler to their meetings and requested that their Representatives add their names to the letter’s signatories. The letter, addressed to key congressional committees, requests the committees to urge CMS to provide appropriate payments for home oxygen therapy to continue through the beneficiary’s period of medical need.
Former Senate Finance Committee health policy staffer Billy Wynne addressed the fly-in attendees with predictions of a “very large Medicare bill” for 2009 that will focus on delivery system reform. Wynne said pay-as-you-go budget rules would apply to the bill and that HME issues, such as oxygen, will remain at risk. Wynne currently works for Health Policy Source, a government relations consulting firm in Washington.
Providers also brought with them AAHomecare’s 13-point anti-fraud plan, which was announced in October, 2008. The plan includes various methods for reducing fraud, including various site inspections, and the establishment of the a Medicare anti-fraud office.
On Monday, AAHomecare publicized the anti-fraud program to the mainstream before the fly-in. AAHomecare held a media press conference to reiterate the association’s support for tough measures to stop Medicare fraud. It says several stories appeared in various news outlets, such as Modern Healthcare and Congressional Quarterly’s HealthBeat, as a result.