WASHINGTON — Washington legislators will get a strong message from HME providers attending the American Association for Homecare Legislative Conference this week: Support H.R. 1041.
The new bill to repeal DMEPOS competitive bidding, called the Fairness in Medicare Bidding Act, was introduced Friday by Reps. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., and Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.
"It would be a full repeal and be budget-neutral," said Altmire press aide Tess Mullen.
The two congressmen, long champions of home care, will discuss the bill at a Capitol Hill press conference tomorrow morning. Altmire will further detail the bill in his scheduled speech at the AAHomecare conference on Wednesday, Mullen said.
The news comes just as providers are headed to the Hill on Thursday to talk to their legislators about competitive bidding.
"When [conference attendees] meet with representatives, they can direct them toward the bill we have introduced and highlight why it is really important to support the legislation into law," Mullen said.
"I think it is important to Congressman Altmire that the people attending the legislative conference are articulate about how this program is affecting them and the patients on the ground," she noted. "It does impact patients who rely on this equipment to live independently every day."
Friday's announcement got a jubilant reception from AAHomecare officials, whose goal was to get a repeal bill introduced in time for the association's annual lobbying event.
"The American Association for Homecare and the Pennsylvania Association of Medical Suppliers, as well as a number of providers and manufacturers in Pennsylvania, have been working with the two congressmen over the past several months in sharing our concerns about competitive bidding and the harmful consequences the program poses to providers and beneficiaries of home care," President Tyler Wilson said in a statement late Friday. "We're pleased to see the congressmen taking action and we look forward to their press conference on Tuesday."
Stakeholders said they are hoping for even greater support than that generated for a repeal bill last year. H.R. 3790 garnered 259 co-sponsors but never made it out of committee or picked up a Senate companion. Two weeks ago, however, Altmire and Thompson hosted a standing-room-only briefing for new legislative aides to bring them up to speed on competitive bidding. Some 25 staffers were turned away for lack of room.
Wilson said the 250 or so conference attendees can build on that foundation by relating their own experiences.
"They [will be] here to tell a story about their business, the people they employ, the beneficiaries they affect," Wilson said.
Georgie Blackburn, vice president of government relations for Tarentum, Pa.-based Blackburn's Pharmacy, plans to do just that. With the implementation of Round 1 competitive bidding, she said, "Now we can talk specifics: This is what is happening to our business and this is what is happening to our patients," she said. "I can't imagine anyone in Congress not wanting to hear that story."
Even though Congress is grappling with problems on numerous fronts, this is a good time for the industry to press its case for a repeal of the bid program, Blackburn said. "I think the timing is excellent because we are in the first quarter of competitive bidding, and we've got real-life instances with our patients [to share]," she said. "We have data to underscore the need for the bill."
"People get it," added AAHomecare Vice President Mike Reinemer. "We just need to push it harder. Now that Round 1 has been implemented, there are some very real problems with access, confusion, more costly health care because of the inability to get into a home setting quicker. In that regard it is a very opportune time."
Wilson said there is always a list of topics for industry advocates to discuss with legislators — this year's includes audits, declining oxygen reimbursement and a separate benefit for complex rehab — but "there is no greater challenge to the industry than competitive bidding."
Blackburn, whose company was awarded two Round 1 contracts, one in enteral nutrition and one in standard power chairs, said competitive bidding "affects your business the way you thought it would, but it also affects your business in many ways you didn't expect."
Because Blackburn's did not get a whole spectrum of contracts, she said, long-time referral sources have turned to those companies that did. "I've talked to many providers and this is happening cross the CBAs," she said. "I think if we go en masse [and tell that story], that makes a statement."
It could also make a difference.
"If we can sell everyone in Congress that [a repeal] is the right thing to do and then look at discretionary spending that would offset the bill — and not necessarily from the HME sector, which has been whittled down to nothing — I believe it can happen," Blackburn said.
Those who can't make it to the Legislative Conference can still push for H.R. 1041 through a virtual fly-in sponsored by the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers. For information, click on "Virtual Fly-in" at www.dmehelp.org.
Read the text of the H.R. 1041. Read a "Dear Colleague" letter on H.R. 1041.
View more competitive bidding stories.