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Medical equipment suppliers provide items like walkers and oxygen tanks. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Companies that supply medical equipment through Medicare say the program's plans to boost their payments isn't a giveaway, but rather a reflection of the reality that small companies serving remote areas have been crushed by Medicare's competitive bidding system.

Background: The durable medical equipment industry helps seniors and disabled people get their walkers, wheelchairs, oxygen tanks and other supplies.

  • It also has a long history of Medicare fraud and questionable billing.
  • Medicare designed a competitive bidding program several years ago to control costs, and the federal government is now evaluating how the program is affecting beneficiaries' access to supplies.
  • In a regulation earlier this month, which mostly affects the suppliers of durable medical equipment rather than manufacturers, Medicare acknowledged the bidding program has created some problems for rural suppliers. It raised their payment rates to help stem some of the losses.

What we're hearing: Our original story on the increased payments struck a nerve. People in the industry argue the policy, first promoted by Tom Price, is deeper than just restoring higher rates.

  • Gary Sheehan, CEO of Cape Medical Supply in Massachusetts, said the main issue is how Medicare "concocted a ham-handed bidding program without appropriate expertise." He pointed to an independent study that found problems with the bidding system.
  • "This increased reimbursement buys us time. Without it, access to (durable medical equipment) in the rural parts of this country will disappear," said James Long, who runs Littleton Respiratory Homecare, a family-owned supplier in Ohio.
  • "We're in an industry that is really struggling to survive. There have been times where I don't know where the money is going to come from," said Matt Russel, an executive at ABC Health Care in Virginia.
  • Jason Jones, the president of Jones Medical Supply in Alabama, said "money-hungry crooks" have hurt the industry's reputation while many suppliers "cannot afford to provide many of the necessary items that are ordered for these beneficiaries."

Yes, but: There are always tradeoffs in health care. Higher funding for rural medical equipment suppliers, even those in need of increased funds, still means taxpayers and seniors will foot the bill.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

48 mins ago - World

Sudan's military places civilian prime minister under house arrest

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during a 2020 news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was put under house arrest and several other ministers were also detained Monday in what appears to be a military coup in the country, per local reports.

Why it matters: The arrests of the civilian faction in the Sudanese government came a day after U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman met with the head of the military faction of the Sudanese government General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and warned him against staging a coup.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Saudi dissident claims MBS said he could get "poison ring" to kill king

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, via video link, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A former senior Saudi intelligence official who worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism alleged to "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in 2014 killing the kingdom's then-monarch.

Why it matters: The claim by the exiled Saad al-Jabri, whom Saudi authorities describe as "a discredited former government official," that the crown prince, known as "MBS," allegedly said he could obtain a "ring from Russia" to carry out the attack, is one of several serious but unproven allegations he made on the CBS show.

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