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Healthcare Bills Will Hamper Medicare Services for Seniors and the Disabled
Date:12/18/2009

Some in Congress recognize the potential danger from ending the early purchase.

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter proposed an amendment to preserve the first-month purchase option while obligating suppliers to pay back Medicare when equipment isn't used full term. The Congress, however, quickly showed how much financial concerns are out weighing practical ones: The Specter amendment essentially died when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) contended that only $200 million would be saved over 10 years with his proposal, while lawmakers sought $800 million in savings. The industry maintains that the CBO was wrong, and that much more than $200 million would be saved with Specter's amendment.

Aware that the Congress is fixated on finding savings to pay for healthcare reform, providers are willing to accept further, yet agonizing, reductions in the reimbursement rates for power wheelchairs in exchange for keeping the purchase option and sustaining a process that would at least allow companies to stay in business.

The Senate legislation also accelerates the implementation of the competitive bidding program for Durable Medical Equipment (DME), which includes oxygen, power wheelchairs and other homecare products. Competitive bidding for these products was first implemented last year, but the program was flawed to the point that patients' lives were endangered because of confusion and delays in getting life-sustaining equipment to beneficiaries, hospitals and other institutions. Congress stepped in, and temporarily halted the program in July 2008. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has re-launched the bidding program, but providers say that many of the original problems have not been corrected. The healthcare reform legislation makes matters worse by ordering a rapid expansion of the competitive bidding process before stakeholders can gauge whether the program can avoid putting some of the most vulnerable
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