Thursday, August 7, 2008

“A Simple Little Market Test of What Government Must Pay for Bed Pans”

It was a “simple little market test of what government must pay for bed pans.” That’s how former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas recently described the Medicare competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment.

Thomas is unhappy that Congress decided to delay the program in order to get it right. The roll-out of the first round of the program in 10 metro areas was an unqualified disaster that would have vastly reduced competition and access to care for seniors and people with disabilities.

It should be noted that the bidding program, in fact, is not “simple,” it is not “little” in the context of the home medical equipment sector, it is not a “test,” and it has nothing to do with “government payments for bed pans.” But aside from those errors, Thomas’ comment is 100 percent accurate: It has something to do with the “market.” Sadly Thomas’ angry dig at home medical equipment is emblematic of the distain for homecare and homecare providers that festers in some corners of Washington’s policy world.

But if so-called Medicare reform proponents can’t even describe this one small sector of Medicare accurately or competently, how in the world are they going to actually design and implement reform in the other sectors of Medicare, where more than 98 percent of the dollars are being spent and where the growth is occurring?

By describing the bidding program as essentially dead, Thomas, like top Medicare and HHS officials, has admitted Congress has little confidence in the ability of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement a fair competitive bidding program.

The American Association for Homecare will continue to work with Congress and CMS toward policies that preserve access to care, foster competition, and are fair to the homecare providers who provide medically required equipment and therapies to people in the most cost-effective setting in the U.S. – at home.

CQ HealthBeat reported Thomas’ comments last Friday. See

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