While Industry Waits for Competitive Bidding Info, CMS Urges Accreditation Action

The waiting game continues for home medical equipment dealers and rehab technology suppliers, particularly those in geographical areas that could be among the first to participate in the new competitive bidding program, as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) continue to urge providers to move forward with the accreditation process.

The most recent CMS Open Door Forum, held at the end of last month, drew approximately 600 participants in person and via phone -- ample evidence of the industry's current level of interest. But as the meeting went on, frustration among participants became palpable, as CMS representatives repeatedly said they could not release information on competitive bidding or state when such information would be available.

In fact, an industry insider who attended the Jan. 30 Open Door Forum in Washington, D.C., in person jokingly pleaded with CMS to at least hint as to when more information would be coming, noting that he was planning to go on vacation soon and was wondering if major news would break when he was gone.

Among the prime pieces of information currently missing: the identities of the first 10 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that will kick off the competitive bidding program this year. In 2009 competitive bidding will encompass 80 of the nation's largest MSAs.

CMS has already given many clues as to the first MSAs to participate by saying, for instance, that some of the nation's largest MSAs would be included, but that the metropolitan New York area, Los Angeles and Chicago would be excluded to give officials time to get acclimated to the program before they have to deal with these most heavily populated areas.

Certain rural areas, CMS has said, as well as certain sparsely populated and non-competitive urban areas would be excluded from competitive bidding.

Additional MSA caveats, such as population numbers and a limit on how many MSAs can initially be chosen per state, have made it possible for industry insiders to make educated, public guesses as to what the first round of MSAs will be. But the Open Door Forum confirmed that many suppliers are still waiting to officially hear the list ù and other competitive bidding information ù from CMS itself.

For more information on how the MSAs will be selected, as well as background on the competitive bidding program, go to www.palmettogba.com/palmetto/providers.nsf/44197232fa85168985257196006939dd/85256d580043e75485257178006e6bc3?OpenDocument" TARGET="_blank">.

On a related note, CMS urged dealers to get moving toward accreditation, noting that very few dealers have thus far signed on with accrediting agencies even though the accreditation process typically takes months. CMS released a list of deemed accreditation organizations for DME, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies on Dec. 7.

For the list of deemed accreditation organizations, go to www.cms.hhs.gov/competitiveacqfordmepos/ and click on the Deemed Accreditation Organizations link.

Several Open Door Forum participants indicated that CMS may have unintentionally contributed to some providers' wait-and-see attitude toward accreditation by not yet releasing all competitive bidding program information. An incorrect Jan. 26 CMS notice, which said all providers who wanted to retain a supplier number and bill Medicare had to be accredited by April 1, further added to provider confusion. CMS rescinded the notice on Jan. 29, then confirmed the notice had been sent in error in the following day's Open Door Forum. The truth, CMS said, is that it has not set a deadline for accreditation, and suppliers do not have to be accredited prior to submitting a bid when the first phases of the competitive bidding program get underway sometime this year.

So for the time being, the hurry-up-and-wait situation continues, as the industry anticipates more information. The next CMS Open Door Forum is scheduled for March 14.

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