At a hearing on the Medicare Advantage program in February, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “It’s time to stop overpayments to the insurance industry and use these funds to support the health of elderly and disabled Americans.”
As Congress raced out the door for an undeserved Fourth of July recess, it is unfortunate that Dingell didn’t say the same thing about a new program from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for competitive bidding for walkers, wheelchairs and other medical devices.
Dingell and another intense critic of the Medicare Advantage program, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., support an amendment added to a Medicare bill that passed the House last week delaying for 18 months the new CMS competitive bidding program.
In studies done at the request of Dingell and Stark, analysts at the Congressional Budget Office have estimated that federal government costs for Medicare Advantage plan members may be 12% higher than costs for traditional Medicare.
Those studies have given rise to severe criticism of the program from the 2, but there were no similar comments about the medical device program. It would replace a current program where Congress sets the prices for this equipment, prices that CMS has determined are far higher than charged by private retailers.
For example, according to The New York Times, Wal-Mart’s Website lists a typical walker for $59.92. But Medicare pays about $110 for the walker.
According to current estimates, the projected annual savings of mandating competitive bidding nationwide is $1 billion to Medicare and $200 million in co-pays by beneficiaries, or approximately 26%.
But while pushing the amendment, Dingell and Stark had no problems with a provision in the legislation passed by the House that calls for cuts of $13.8 billion over 5 years in the Medicare Advantage program. The legislation is companion to a bill introduced in the Senate recently by Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., calling for the same cuts.