Legislative update: One letter down, one more to go

‘(These letters) give HHS Secretary Price a club to hit career staffers with’
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Friday, June 16, 2017

WATERLOO, Iowa – Fresh on the heels of a successful letter in the House of Representatives seeking competitive bidding relief, industry stakeholders say they now have their sights on a Senate version.

“We hope to have Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D, come up with a letter in the next couple of weeks,” John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group, told attendees at the Heartland Conference last week. “(These letters) give HHS Secretary Tom Price ‘a club’ to hit career CMS staffers with.”

The letter asks Price and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to use their authority to, among other things, freeze Medicare reimbursement in non-bid areas at the Jan. 1, 2016, rates.

Stakeholders lauded Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., for spearheading the letter in the House, calling her the industry’s newest champion.

“She gets (HME),” said Gallagher. “We asked her to be our champion and she said ‘yes.’”

While chaos in Washington, D.C., has slowed things down considerably—leading to much frustration for HME providers—things are starting to fall into place, say stakeholders. Price has now brought on many of his own staffers who are familiar with HME issues and aren’t stubbornly welded to the flawed bid program.

“Career staffers have been working against us for 30 years,” Jay Witter, senior vice president of public policy for AAHomecare, told attendees.

Stakeholders, who argue that Congress intended for CMS to reset rates in non-bid area for the second half of 2016 to match those of the first half of the year, say they’d like to see CMS’s own tactics turned against them.

“CMS has set a broad authority for the secretary with all the shenanigans of the last 10 years,” said Witter. “Our hope is now that we have Price and his staff, they can interpret these laws their way.”

Still, despite optimism in the air, the industry’s to-do list remains long and complex. In the short term, quick action is needed to permanently stave off Medicare’s plans to apply bid-related pricing to accessories for complex wheelchairs on July 1.

“We’re looking to get this fixed by the end of the month,” said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. “It will be a pretty intense two weeks.”