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Here we are again discussing competitive bidding, only this time it's good news – that is, if you, as one with a disability, support the legislative ball that's begun rolling to repeal it: H.R. 1041, a “budget-neutral” bill that eliminates competitive bidding.

Competitive Bidding at a Glance
To recap, the initial phase of competitive of bidding of durable medical equipment, including standard power wheelchairs, began on January 1, 2011. Competitive bidding divides the United States into 100 “competitive bidding areas” (CBAs), and requires DME providers to place bids to be the exclusive product supplier for Medicare in an area, and the lowest bidder wins.

As the bidding occurred for the initial 9 regional areas (as competitive bidding is being phased in region by region), our concern as consumers was that it would encourage low-ball bidding, where such providers presumed that they could run high-volume, low quality businesses, having a truly captive market. Specifically, our concern as consumers has been that any low-ball winning bidders could dramatically harm beneficiaries by only providing substandard products with limited to no service. Put literally, the concern was that competitive bidding – by eliminating consumers choice of providers and products – would eliminate meaningful access to life-sustaining durable medical goods.

Fears Come True
To our great dismay, based on the first months of competitive bidding, we're witnessing that consumers on the ground aren't being properly served in many cases. Some beneficiaries are being refused service based on their geographical distance from the winning provider (which violates the policy agreement, but there's no recourse route at this time); others are at the mercy of winning providers who are simply supplying inappropriate products, where the beneficiary has no other options; and, yet other beneficiaries are experiencing all-around atrocious service from low-ball bidders who won contracts with virtually no will or ability to serve beneficiaries. Competitive bidding, in no uncertain terms, has materialized our worst fears by creating a truly captive market — one that's harming the health and livelihood of those with disabilities.

A Life Preserver
Fortunately, H.R. 1041 has been introduced to repeal competitive bidding of durable medical equipment – and it's a budget neutral bill, meaning that it doesn't add cost. However, what repealing competitive bidding does change in the long term is ensuring access to a quality provider, service, and products. As consumer-beneficiaries we deserve the right to pick the provider of our choice, switch providers if we wish, and, most importantly, have access to appropriate products. Competitive bidding prevents those life-sustaining mobility requirements, so it's vital that we stop it in its tracks now by supporting H.R. 1041.

The Even Bigger Picture
What we know is that 67% of Medicare power wheelchair funding serves those under 65 years with severe disabilities like muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy. What's statistically amazing is that when we provide the right wheelchair for each individual's needs (which competitive bidding prevents), the beneficiary is not only healthier, but pursues education and career, literally going from a beneficiary to a taxpayer. In this way, we clearly see that competitive bidding doesn't just harm beneficiaries and keep them on the “system,” it costs taxpayers exponentially more in the long run. See, stopping the competitive bidding of items like power wheelchairs isn't only about the health and well-being of those with disabilities, but also about long-term socioeconomic gains for all.  

Your Quick Email Will Make all of the Difference
I ask you to please email your congressional representatives, encouraging him or her to support H.R. 1041, the budget-neutral bill to repeal competitive bidding. And, if you wish to briefly share your own story with him or her – personalizing the subject – that always goes even further toward hitting home the point: That appropriate durable medical equipment access and funding truly benefits all, beginning with you.

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Published 3/2011, Copyright 2011,