Industry Still Waiting to Learn Bid Winners' Identities

As October drew to a close, the DME industry was still waiting for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to release the list of winners in its first-round redo of the Medicare competitive bidding program.

The program is scheduled to be implemented on Jan. 1, leading to concerns that problems that arise among winning bidders might not be rectified in time for a smooth start to the program.

In an Oct. 28 bulletin to members, the American Association of Homecare (AAHomecare) noted, "For months, CMS has indicated that it would release the list of contract providers in September... it is now the end of October, and CMS has not released any information to Congress. This is no surprise to AAHomecare. The association has been warning Congress of CMS's poor track record of releasing important information in a timely manner."

AAHomecare added, "The refusal to name the bid winners underscores the long-standing absence of transparency at CMS."

During an Oct. 14 CMS Home Health, Hospice and DME Open Door Forum, CMS's Michael Keane told attendees that no new information was immediately available about the identities of the winning bidders.

Keane said at the meeting, "In testing a new program integrity tool on the list of potential competitive bidding suppliers, a number of red flags were raised that require further examination before CMS announces the final list."

He then appeared to blame the delay on DME providers rather than on CMS, saying, "Given the past history of fraud in the DME arena, especially in Miami, CMS believes it is prudent to take the time to review these issues to ensure the program is best positioned to serve Medicare beneficiaries. We expect to move forward with the implementation of the program very soon, beginning with the announcement of the contract suppliers and continuing our aggressive education and outreach activities for beneficiaries and other stakeholders."

A day later, on Oct. 15, the official competitive bidding (CBIC) Web site (dmecompetitivebid.com/palmetto/cbic.nsf/DocsCat/Home) was updated with a statement strikingly similar to Keane's: "Given the past history of fraud in the DME arena and new tools to detect it, CMS believes that it is prudent to take the time to review potential competitive bidding suppliers to ensure the program is best positioned to serve Medicare beneficiaries. There will be more than enough qualified suppliers in all of the nine sites to assure beneficiary access to equipment and supplies. We expect to move forward with implementation of the program soon, beginning with the announcement of the contract suppliers and continuing our aggressive education and outreach activities for our beneficiaries and other stakeholders."

Neither the CBIC nor the Open Door Forum announcement by Keane offered details or a description about the new program integrity "tool."

Prior to the update, the CBIC Web site had listed September 2010 as a "target date" for the announcement of the bid winners. Industry experts had pointed out repeatedly that the CBIC site had not been updated for some time.

Following the Open Door Forum, AAHomecare said in a statement to members, "It is now mid-October and CMS has failed to release any information on the bid process or winning contracts. If CMS still plans to begin implementation of the bid rates in round 1 areas at the beginning of next year, it will leave little time for HME referral sources, discharge planners, providers, and patients to prepare for such a drastic change in the delivery of HME -- placing beneficiaries' safety at risk."

In a bulletin last week sent to National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES) members, President/CEO Wayne Stanfield surmised, "While I have no answers in my crystal ball, one could speculate that since CMS is dragging their feet with the contract announcements, they may not have enough contractors to meet the capacity in one or more product categories, or in one or more CBAs (competitive bidding areas)."

Stanfield has been keeping a countdown clock on the NAIMES (dmehelp.org) Web site. The clock currently shows 59 days until the implementation of what Stanfield refers to as "suicide bidding."

AAHomecare (aahomecare.org) is urging members to contact their members of Congress and urge them to question CMS about the delay in releasing the list of bid winners, the undefined program integrity tool mentioned in the Oct. 14 Open Door Forum and the Oct. 15 CBIC Web site statement, and the concerns over the program expressed by a large group of economists. Senators and representatives can be reached by calling the Capitol Hill switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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