Administrative update

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

TALLAHASEE, Fla. — Florida has temporarily put its competitive bidding project on hold, partially, it seems, in response to an industry lawsuit.

As it did three years ago when a Medicare competitive bidding project sped into Polk County, the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES) has filed a lawsuit asking the court to put the brakes on a new competitive bidding project for Medicaid.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which administers Florida's Medicaid program, released an RFP for a competitive bidding project on Feb. 28. It originally planned to grant contracts for hospital beds and oxygen equipment and supplies on May 15.

But with the lawsuit pending, the state asked for a 45 day delay to negotiate with the provider community, and now won't open bids until May 31.

Despite the temporary delay, the "governor's office is still determined that it will go through," said Alan Cross, president of C&C Homecare in Bradenton, Fla. "It's a tentative victory" he said of the delay.

In its lawsuit, FAMES argues AHCA broke numerous "rules" in developing the project and administering its RFP. It also contends the court should take the competitive bidding project, which was mandated by the state, off the road.

"We learned some hard lessons [in our lawsuit against Medicare]," said Joan Cross, president of FAMES. "We really hesitated to file this one. It's hard to change the government. But, if we're going to take our representation responsibilities seriously, we felt we had to do it."

"As far as I know, they're not opening the proposals they've received until this is settled," Cross said.

The seven-page lawsuit includes the following complaints:

- AHCA didn't give FAMES or the industry it represents prior notice. "There are still people who don't know about it," Cross said;

- By initiating the project, AHCA created new policy (and therefore new rules) but didn't go through "rule-making requirements":

- Because the project calls for one provider to service each of the 11 regions, AHCA is limiting the number of providers eligible to service Medicaid beneficiaries from about 1,500 to 11 or fewer;

- The one-provider-per-region provision also eliminates beneficiaries' freedom of choice; and

- Competitive bidding is allowed for "devices," but in this project, much of what is being contracted are services.

In its lawsuit, Cross said the association is up against an organization, backed by senators and representatives, that has little knowledge of how the HME industry operates, only that it wants to cut its budget by well over $1 million.

"I swear, if any of them have ever seen a kid on a ventilator, a kid who can't talk, a kid who'll never run," she said, "they'd want to take care of them better than this."
Attempts to reach Maureen Hemmerly, the project's coordinator for AHCA, were not successful. HME