The Senate passed legislation on June 22 to delay a new round of cuts to rural and non-bid-area suppliers and provide additional fixes to the Medicare competitive bidding program for home medical equipment (HME). The amended version of the legislation (S. 2736) will delay the second cut for HME items in non-bid areas from July 1, 2016, until at least July 1, 2017.

In addition, the legislation will require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to monitor and report on access issues and health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries utilizing HME, with updates provided on the CMS Web site on a monthly basis. It will also advance the start date of the federal portion of Medicaid reimbursement mirroring Medicare rates by three months from calendar year 2019 (January 1) to fiscal year 2019 (Oct. 1, 2018).

“Home medical equipment companies that serve patients in rural and less-populated areas are a lifeline to seniors and people with disabilities or chronic conditions,” says Rose Schafhauser, executive director of the Midwest Association for Medical Equipment Services. “People in rural America are fortunate to have advocates like Senator [John] Thune and Senator [Heidi] Heitkamp, who realize that cutting Medicare reimbursement rates to the bone for critically needed equipment and services in these areas without further study is a risk we can’t afford to take.”

Kay Johnson, owner of Midwest Medical Equipment Service in Watertown, S.D., echoed Schafhauser’s statements. “Home medical equipment providers are doing their best to keep patients out of hospitals and long-term care facilities as long as we can,” she says. “We’re fortunate to have an ally like Senator Thune helping us to continue to serve the healthcare needs of rural communities.”