Hobson-Tanner Bill Reaches 100-Sponsor Mark; Senate Is Next Target

The Hobson-Tanner Bill -- aka, H.R. 3559 -- has secured 101 co-sponsors as of April 28, 2006, says Pride Mobility Products' Director of Rehab Industry Affairs Wayne Grau, and that milestone means it's the perfect time to ramp up efforts to create a companion bill for the Senate.

H.R. 3559 -- the Medicare Durable Medical Equipment Access Act of 2005 -- seeks to modify current requirements for national competitive bidding (NCB) for home medical equipment. The bill calls for, among other changes, NCB exemptions for smaller communities and the right of participating providers to seek administrative and judicial review. H.R. 3559 was introduced by Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio) and Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) in July 2005.

"You really need to have 100 members in the House on a bill," Grau explains. "It shows support, especially when it's broad support -- bipartisan, both Republicans and Democrats. That's what this bill has. At that point, then we can go to senators; we really want to target a couple on some influential committees, like finance, and say, 'Look, we've got support for this. We'd like to have you guys write a Senate companion bill.' That is really the next goal. We're working with some other people in the industry to get a Senate companion bill introduced probably within the next four weeks."

Work will continue on H.R. 3559, Grau says, with the goal of ultimately adding 80 to 100 additional co-signers -- the amount of support needed to get the bill passed. The building momentum of H.R. 3559 will also be used to fuel the efforts to create a similar Senate bill.

"We can kind of multi-task a little bit," Grau says. We can work on the House bill and the Senate bill at the same time. We have to get two senators to agree to do that, and that's what the 100 (H.R. 3559 sponsors) does: It gives us the support level to get that done."

Grau is encouraged that support for H.R. 3559 is coming from across geographic lines and political ideologies -- a fact that makes the bill stronger. "Right now, (sponsors) are about 55-percent Democrat, 45-percent Republican," he points out. "We need that; we need good bipartisan support, good geography. You don't want (solely) everyone from New York and New England signing aboard. The six members that signed on this week are all Republicans -- and two from Louisiana, two from Oklahoma, both states that didn't have members (as sponsors) before. Right now, I think California and Florida are the ones that are really lagging. I'm going to be on Capitol Hill the next two weeks, doing nothing but concentrating on meeting with those California and the Florida reps to get them on board."

With Congress' spring recess now over so that legislators are now back in Washington, "I think you're going to see the number climb again," Grau says. "It looks like we have another eight oral commitments, which we should add next week."

On the Senate side, Grau will be educating and using H.R. 3559's support to the HME industry's advantage. "We can also go to the two senators from Oklahoma, let's say, and tell them, 'Four of your House members have signed on; they think it's a good bill. We'd like you to consider signing the Senate companion bill.' We probably need to get to 30 or 35 in order to get good support in the Senate on this."

Once that support is in place, Grau says the next step is looking toward actual bill passage. "Most likely, this bill will not go for an up-and-down vote," Grau says. "It's a very small bill. We're going to look at different legislative things we can do to get this thing passed -- maybe attach it to a bill. But the main thing is to build up the support first. Once you have that, it gives you a lot more options as to what you can do."

Grau encourages dealers to keep the heat on. "Stay the course," he says. "We strongly encourage all dealers to call their congressmen, get involved, join the fight. This bill is good for everybody: HME, mobility, rehab."

And, of course, dealers and their clients might be able to use the 2006 calendar to their advantage. "I think all representatives at this point are much more willing to listen to their constituents. There is a number of issues that I don't think make people very happy, with gas prices and a number of other things. When there is an election year, you typically get a little more face time with your congressman. But will it be the number-one reason (the bills are eventually passed)? No. If dealers take the time to call their congressman, explain the bill and how it protects small businesses, how it protects the disabled and elderly in the district, and how it still saves money -- that message has really resonated well with the budget hawks."

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