Study: Long Wait for Consumers to Speak to CMS

A new study related to consumer satisfaction and dissatisfaction with Medicare's national competitive bidding program revealed that consumers wanting to speak to a representative can expect a long wait.

Hogan-Hansen PC, an independent accounting firm based in Waterloo, Iowa, conducted the study for Last Chance for Patient Choice (LCPC), a non-profit group seeking to end the DME competitive bidding program, and the American Association for Homecare.

Hogan-Hansen made 100 phone calls to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) during a two-month period. The firm said it took more than five minutes on average for the caller to be able to speak to a live CMS representative.

Even worse: Once the caller began speaking with the CMS representative, the representative often gave the caller incorrect information about the competitive bidding program.

For instance, Hogan-Hansen's report stated, callers asked if they were scheduled to participate in competitive bidding's round 2 - and supplied ZIP codes that are indeed in round 2 areas. But 96 percent of the time, CMS representatives incorrectly said the ZIP codes mentioned by the callers were not included in round 2 participation.

CMS representatives also incorrectly stated that certain specific DME products, including wheelchairs, hospital beds and oxygen, were not currently being competitively bid and would not be in the future.

"It is our belief that there have been and continue to be large numbers of beneficiaries negatively impacted by the CMS bidding scheme, and we believe there are numerous problems with CMS's alleged monitoring of complaints," said Mike Mallaro, president of LCPC and CFO of the VGM Group.

"The independent findings of Hogan-Hansen are strong evidence that CMS has not provided adequate means for the frail elderly and disabled people hurt by bidding scheme to voice their displeasure and report disruptions to their health care."

A news announcement of the Hogan-Hansen report said CMS has reported receiving just 151 complaints about competitive bidding in 2011.

In its April 17 report, called "Competitive Bidding Update - One Year Implementation Update," CMS self reported on its program's success.

"CMS has closely monitored the results of the competitive bidding program since implementation on Jan. 1, 2011, to ensure that savings goals of the program have been achieved and - more important - to ensure that beneficiary access to appropriate supplies and equipment has not been compromised," the agency stated. "The results of CMS's real-time claims monitoring is supported by the low number of beneficiary complaints the agency has received."

But Mallaro countered, "The survey results indicated a shocking lack of accessibility to CMS and explain why CMS alleges to have not received many complaints."

Hogan-Hansen also made 100 phone calls to random HME providers to determine the average length of time it took for a caller to reach a live person. It reported that day or night, callers on average could speak to a live person at an HME business in less than 20 seconds. In 90 percent of the cases, callers spoke to a live person at the HME provider in less than a minute.

Hogan-Hansen reported that no caller was able to speak to a live CMS representative in less than a minute during its study.

About the Author

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

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