Fortunate for support of our delegation

Rose Schafhauser

Stillwater, Minn.

On behalf of our Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services, the North Dakota suppliers would like to extend our thanks to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., for their bipartisan efforts to protect Medicare beneficiaries’ access to health care in North Dakota.

There is so much news from Washington, D.C., about lack of support, partisan disagreements, and the failure of most elected officials to extend their hands across the aisle. In stark contrast, our North Dakota delegation took time out of their schedules and met with home medical equipment suppliers in our state to discuss the importance of protect quality health care in our rural areas of North Dakota.

Currently there is a program in many areas of the U.S. which requires Medicare beneficiaries to receive their medical supplies from a Medicare Competitive Bidding Supplier that may or may not be located in their communities. Some North Dakotans may be familiar with this program because the requirement for Medicare beneficiaries who want to have their diabetic supplies shipped to them recently changed considerably.

These beneficiaries can no longer have diabetic supplies shipped to them by their hometown supplier or pharmacy unless the supplier is a Medicare Contracted Supplier.

If Medicare beneficiaries choose to stay with the supplier they are familiar with, they have to go into the store or pharmacy to get their supplies. However, the supplier may no longer carry these diabetic supplies because the reimbursement paid for by Medicare will no longer cover the cost of the supplies. This can be a tremendous hardship for some people who need the supplies immediately.

The competitive bidding program was designed with several flaws which allowed suppliers to submit “suicide” bids. This drove the pricing to amounts that cannot be sustained over the long term. In order to stay in business, Medicare Contracted Suppliers have been forced to delay delivery and services or cut out services all together.

This competitive bidding pricing program for home medical equipment and supplies is set to be expanded nationwide around 2016. This will create a significant cut in reimbursement rates to all North Dakota home medical equipment suppliers. In many cases, the pricing that Medicare has set will not cover the cost of the equipment or supply. If the pricing requirements are allowed to extend into the rural areas of North Dakota, your ability to receive the same service or products could change significantly.

When we met with our delegation, they shared our concerns. Sen. John Hoeven took it upon himself to initiate a letter to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services requesting an evaluation of the program in its entirety, and to wait until an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General was completed before expanding the program to North Dakota. The letter was immediately signed by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp along with 39 other senators and was submitted to the administrator at CMS. Additionally, Rep. Kevin Cramer has also shown his support for home care in North Dakota and has signed on to a bill that addresses fixes to the major flaws in the program. Although we have not yet heard the final result of all this, we believe there will be changes made for the better. The changes to protect access to quality medical equipment and services could not be accomplished without our congressional delegation’s support.

We are very fortunate to live in a state where our bipartisan delegation are working together to preserve our access to quality home medical equipment, supplies and service for the senior citizens and people with disabilities who depend on it. Please take a minute and thank each of them for showing their support in preserving healthcare in North Dakota.