Lawmakers concerned about Medicare’s competitive bidding program.

The Wall Street Journal (5/6, A4, Mathews) reports that on Tuesday, the U.S. House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed "plan to use competitive bidding for products such as wheelchairs and walkers." Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress have expressed concern about the program. Opponents "in Congress and elsewhere say service for the elderly will suffer if the bidding system drives some operators out of business." Under the current system, "companies receive a government-set fee to distribute such equipment for patients’ home use." However, under the proposed "competitive system, companies bid on how low a fee they would be willing to accept. Medicare then limits distribution rights for a particular geographic area to several low bidders."

Lobbyists seek to exempt certain medical equipment from Medicare competitive bidding program. The Hill (5/6, Young) reports, "Influential corporate interests, especially wheelchair and oxygen suppliers like Invacare, are furiously working to get Congress to postpone the program." Representatives from the medical-equipment industry allege that the CMS "is mishandling the program, that the pay rates are too low to cover the cost of providing the supplies, and that patients are going to be stuck with poor service from suppliers that low-balled their bids to win market share."

But, CMS Acting Administrator Kerry Weems "said Monday that complaints about flaws in the bidding process were unfounded, and that he sent three CMS employees to review the work of the contractor that conducted the selection process for the competitive bidding program," Congressional Quarterly (5/6, Carey) notes. Weems said that no problems could be found "[i]n a review of a sample of the 100 cases in which allegations were made."

As reported by AHLA News.