The coalition is trying to stop it’s website urges beneficiaries to write letters to members of Congress, and offers tips for doing so. And it posts media stories about the competitive bidding process, which mostly promote the industry’s case against competitive bidding. For example, a blog post in early June from ABCNews 4 in Charleston, SC is built almost exclusively around comments from the president of a local supplier of respiratory services, who says the hope is that Washington will delay the rule and consider a different option. While she acknowledged the process could save Medicare money, she argued that it could cost more in the long run if patients don’t have the one-on-one interaction to learn how to use the equipment.

Like the insurers’ campaign against trimming Medicare reimbursements, this one has also included a TV commercial—one that provokes fear and invokes the notion of choice, both powerful weapons in the war to win over the elderly. A recent commercial from Abbott Laboratories that aired on MSNBC, USA Network, and other channels plays on fear, common among Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare is “streamlining,” says the announcer. “Your supplier could try to switch you to a brand that might not be as accurate, a brand your doctor never heard of.” The commercial, though, is really about market share for Abbott, an industry leader in diabetes products, as Ankit Makim, director of CarbonSix, a Chicago market research firm, told Crain’s Wang. “Probably 80 percent is protective and 20 percent is about increasing their share.”

In the lobbying game it helps to have a study or two that adds a patina of authority to your activities. And sure enough, yesterday came an item on the PRNewswire announcing a study by researchers at George Washington University’s School of Public Health, sponsored by the Diabetes Access to Care Coalition, which noted:

The Coalition is concerned that competitive bidding for diabetic testing supplies may cause seniors to lose access to the most commonly prescribed diabetes testing supplies or create confusion about where they can obtain the supplies they are currently using.

The lead author, Sara Rosenbaum, worries that the “competitive bidding program makes an already vulnerable population even more vulnerable” and says the government must take immediate steps to “help seniors with diabetes avoid confusion.”

I asked Medicare about all this. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said diabetic testing supplies were included in the first round of bidding, and there were very few beneficiary complaints—less than 1% of total call volume—which would suggest that not having enough suppliers to choose from was not an issue. CMS has sent a letter to all beneficiaries announcing the new program and clearly telling them how to find suppliers. That selection process is not much different from finding sellers of Medicare Advantage plans, or prescription drug coverage on Medicare’s website.

There are lots of ironies and contradictions in this tale, and it would be great if the media could build upon Steven Brill’s work in Time that discussed how hard it is for Medicare to lower the cost of its program—unless it can use its bargaining muscle.


Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from Trudy Lieberman and the rest of the United States Project team, including our work on healthcare issues and public health at The Second Opinion.

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.