Health care, for a Price

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01/23/2017

I’ve been making a round of calls to HME industry consultants today to see what they’re working on with their provider clients. (Managing Editor Theresa likes to call the story that I write from these calls “Consultant’s corner.”) I can’t say that I’ve dug up much yet. I’ve been hearing a lot about audits, but that’s pretty much business as usual for HME providers these days.

A number of consultants I’ve spoken with have mentioned the anticipation surrounding the new administration and the possibility of Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., a supporter of the HME industry (and vice versa), as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“Everyone’s holding their breath to see if he’ll be confirmed and to see what he’ll do,” one consultant told me.

At the top of the list of things they hope he’ll do, according to a recent HME Newspoll: repeal and replace Medicare’s competitive bidding program.

We’ll know a lot more about Price’s fate tomorrow, after his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee—they’re the ones that actually vote on his nomination. If you believe the headlines coming out of D.C., it will be a tough day for Price. “Tom Price’s divisive hearing sets stage for brutal Senate Finance battle” was a headline in Politico following Price’s hearing earlier this month before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

I was reminded earlier this month that while the majority of our readers (or those who responded to our poll, anyway) believe Price is a good pick for HHS secretary, they don’t all think so.

“I found your coverage of…Tom Price to be alarming, disgusting and extremely false,” one reader emailed me.

While Price has made a name for himself in the HME industry for his popular stance on HME issues, including repealing and replacing the bid program, this reader pointed out that his larger goal of also repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act could have serious consequences.

“There will be many, many people uninsured, under insured and dropped from the ‘for profit’ healthcare system, discriminated against and left for dead from politicians stuck in the early 1900s and failing to represent all Americans,” he wrote. “To pretend otherwise is an egregious error on your part and I lost any respect I had for your publication trying to stroke these awful men's egos. You are ignoring the fact that this administration does not care about all its citizens or even most of its citizens. It only cares that the rich ones continue to get richer. Our small little DME companies will disappear or be gobbled up by the large ones who suck up to Tom Price. You apparently no longer represent me.”

He has a point about the uninsured. If Obamacare is largely repealed, fewer people will have health insurance, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for HME providers—especially those who serve Medicaid recipients, because the majority of the people who gained health insurance as a result of Obamacare were added to the Medicaid rolls.

For whatever reasons, however, many of our readers also support repealing and replacing the ACA. Because of the business implications? Because they don’t do a lot of Medicaid business? Because they’re hardline Republicans? All of the above?

Me, I go back to what that consultant said. Not about whether or not Price will be confirmed (isn’t it likely in the current environment in D.C., even after a “battle”?). But about what he’ll do. We know where everyone in the HME industry falls on competitive bidding, but regardless of where you fall on the ACA, what he does or doesn’t do is going to be a big time big deal.

Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure: There are a lot of eyes watching.