The durable medical goods bidding backlash

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Make that one for Sen. Charles Grassley. The usual thorn in the side of the nursing home industry likely won some points from this crowd this week after introducing a measure that would delay the new durable medical equipment competitive bidding process.

It was a smart move by the hard working, highly respected (and slightly irritable) senior Republican senator from Iowa.

The controversial policy, which is scheduled to start on July 1 in the first round of 10 metropolitan statistical areas, has provoked an outcry from durable medical equipment suppliers and nursing home providers alike. It was a major topic of discussion raised in providers’ meetings with lawmakers at last week’s American Health Care Association conference in Washington, D.C.

They have a right be upset.

While the process aims to cut the amount of money that Medicare spends on these goods, it rewards larger suppliers and edges out the smaller companies that many nursing homes rely on. (The bidding process affects durable medical equipment, such as walkers, wheelchairs and power scooters, as well as prosthetics, orthotics and supplies. These are referred to collectively as DMEPOS.)

Companies have argued that some favored bidders don’t necessarily know the business of some of the products in their contracts. Also, many facilities have had long-standing agreements with their suppliers and know they can obtain ordered equipment on short notice. Being given another supplier might mean a facility has to wait longer for a needed piece of equipment.

It is heartening that legislators are responding to their providers’ concerns. I can say with first-hand certainty that Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) was receptive to complaints regarding the policy from a delegation from Arkansas that came to pay her a visit at the AHCA conference last week.

Along with Grassley, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced a bill delaying the process by 18 months. Both senators included their measures in larger Medicare legislation that would delay the Medicare physician payment cut.

Also, yesterday, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, introduced a bipartisan bill (H.R. 6252) that would delay and adjust the controversial program.

Lawmakers clearly are bi-partisan in their distaste for the bill. As Grassley’s action shows, it appears that adversaries can, from time to time, see eye to eye.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.