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Legislators work together on home medical equipment

On behalf of North Dakota home medical equipment suppliers, I would like to thank 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 about lack of support, partisan disagreements and the failure of most elected officials to extend their hands across the aisle. In stark contrast, members of 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 protecting 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. 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.

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.

Our congressional delegation shared our concerns. Hoeven took it upon himself to initiate a letter to the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services requesting an evaluation of the program, 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 signed by Heitkamp along with 39 other senators. Additionally, Cramer has also shown his support and has signed on to a bill that addresses fixes to the major flaws in the program.

We are very fortunate to live in a state where our bipartisan delegation is 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!

(Stockert is a North Dakota board member for the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services)