Last updated: April 30. 2014 3:09PM - 348 Views
By U.S. Congressmen Pat Tiberi, Jim Renecci, Bill Johnson

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Only in out-of-touch Washington would bureaucrats praise a program as “successful” that, in reality, is harming seniors, small businesses and taxpayers in Ohio and across the nation.

Access to durable medical equipment and supplies (DME), which includes items such as blood sugar monitors, home oxygen and walkers, improves the quality of life for many individuals who prefer to remain in their homes as they age or manage chronic conditions, rather than move to a care facility.

The competitive bidding program was intended to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for seniors and those living with disabilities, saving taxpayer dollars, while also maintaining access to quality supplies through a competitive bidding process. While these are goals that we should strive for, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has failed to achieve them. Instead, the program is creating significant barriers to access and destroying the DME infrastructure that seniors and individuals with disabilities depend on. In fact, nearly 250 auction experts warned in a letter to Congress that the program is unsustainable and that it is “difficult to imagine a more flawed process.”

The President’s healthcare law required CMS to expand the bidding program and it is now administered in 100 areas across the country, including eight in Ohio. Thousands of beneficiaries nationwide have voiced concerns about the program, including many in Ohio. Seniors have experienced significant delays in receiving necessary medical supplies and equipment, while others are concerned that the program only offers access to lower quality goods and limited choices.

The program’s harmful consequences are not limited to beneficiaries. The competitive bidding program’s structure amounts to a 45 percent reimbursement cut for suppliers of DME, many of whom are small businesses in Ohio. These cuts mean lost jobs and lost opportunities for economic growth in our state. In addition, CMS has repeatedly awarded contracts to unlicensed providers through four rounds of bidding, beating out Ohio companies who play by the rules.

Fraudulently low bid rates submitted by bad actors threaten to redefine the DME benefit as we know it, as patients have come to expect it, and as the health care market demands it. In reality, the bidding program is anything but “competitive,” and has been poorly implemented by a nontransparent federal agency that remains shielded from public scrutiny.

From the start, the DME competitive bidding program has been plagued by design and implementation concerns — concerns that still exist today and remain largely ignored as CMS plows ahead with expansion. While Congress has repeatedly raised these issues and offered workable solutions, CMS refuses to acknowledge any of the program’s faults and failings.

It is well documented that homecare is a key solution to reining in America’s health care spending. However, this bidding experiment is a destructive, runaway government initiative that will harm Ohio’s seniors and those living with disabilities. Additionally, it will gut provider businesses both large and small, potentially crush innovation and technology, and could shift costs to more expensive acute care.

We, along with many of our colleagues, are committed to combating fraud to promote fair competition for small businesses, ensuring timely access to quality DME supplies for beneficiaries, and increasing transparency at CMS. With so much at stake in Ohio, the DME competitive bidding program should not move forward without serious reform. Ohioans, and all Americans, deserve better.

Pat Tiberi presents Central Ohio and serves as the chairman of the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures.

Jim Renacci represents Northeast Ohio and serves on the House Ways & Means Committee.

Bill Johnson represents Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, and serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

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