CMS education efforts backfire

Friday, June 7, 2013

WASHINGTON – Recent educational outreach by CMS has beneficiaries more baffled about competitive bidding than ever, HME providers say.

“They’ve raised awareness, but they’re also creating confusion,” said Chris Rice, CEO of Riverside, Calif.-based Diamond Respiratory Care. “(The beneficiaries) don’t understand what’s going on.”

Within the past couple of weeks, Medicare sent a letter to beneficiaries stating competitive bidding would begin July 1, and outlining their options.

After reading the letters, beneficiaries either think they need to immediately switch suppliers, or have no idea what to do, providers say. And calls to CMS don’t seem to clear up matters.

“When one of our customers called, they told her we were not grandfathering and she’d have to switch,” said Bruno Scalzo, president of Hickory Hills, Ill.-based Family Medical.

Scalzo, who does plan to grandfather, called Medicare and was told he hadn’t filled out a form to notify the agency of his plans. After an hour of talking with three different phone representatives, Medicare acknowledged no such form existed.

“I sent out letters and 99% of my patients want to stay with me, but Medicare is making it hard,” said Scalzo.

Provider Woody O’Neal, who did win Round 2 contracts, says the letters have prompted misguided beneficiaries to visit his location to “kick the tires,” and see what he has to offer them.

“They come in to look around and say, ‘I’m not sure if I’m going to switch,’” said O’Neal, vice president at Pelham, Ala.-based O2Neal Medical. “They don’t know they don’t have any choice.”

Providers are trying to go toe to toe with CMS by conducting their own education about how beneficiaries can speak out against the program.

“When we explain competitive bidding, they don’t understand why this is happening and they don’t think it’s fair,” said Mike Kernes, general manager at Hackensack, N.J.-based Reliable Medical. “We tell them to let CMS and Congress know.”

There’s a new hotline to make it as easy as possible for beneficiaries, says former provider Rob Brant: 855-322-8295.

“The industry needs a simple way for patients to say we are having some issues,” said Brant, CEO of AMEPA.