CMS extends competitive bidding deadlines

Sunday, July 1, 2007

WASHINGTON - CMS late on Friday extended the deadlines for registering for national competitive bidding and submitting bids by one week. The agency changed the deadline for registering from June 30 to July 7 and for submitting bids from July 13 to July 20.

Despite the news, AAHomecare plans to continue pushing for further delays.

"This will help, but a week is not enough to address all of the questions and concerns," said Michael Reinemer, AAHomecare's vice president of communications and policy.

(Last week, HME News asked CMS for the number of providers in each of the first 10 competitive bidding areas that had registered so far. A CMS official declined the request, responding in an e-mail: "This is procurement sensitive information. That means it is not subject to disclosure.")

AAHomecare sent a letter Friday to Herb Kuhn, CMS's acting deputy administrator, seeking a delay to competitive bidding due to "severe technical problems with bid submissions, late dissemination of critical information about the bidding process and numerous questions about the process that have not been adequately answered."

Additionally, two senators and representatives crafted sign-on letters last week that urge CMS to delay competitive bidding. Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Reps. Tom Allen, D-Maine, and Sam Johnson, R-Texas, are circulating the sign-on letters. The deadline for sign-ons: July 10.

In the letters, the lawmakers urge CMS to address the following issues before it closes the bidding window and implements the program:

* Outline how it plans to assess the program, especially its impact on clinical outcomes for patients.

* Delay the process until after all bidder conferences have been completed and as many providers as possible have begun and concluded the accreditation process. The letter states: "The 60-day bidding process does not provide sufficient time for suppliers to learn about the important details and obtain answers to key questions relevant to the preparation of their bids. Moreover, small suppliers that wish to participate in bidding networks must develop new business organizations, implement untried computer systems and address a large number of unresolved policy issues, including potential violations of antitrust laws."

* Refine the proposed product categories. "Product codes used by CMS are too broad and inconsistent to adequately describe products with diverse ranges of quality, functionality, technology and clinical utility," the letter states.

* Clarify the rights of winning providers to ensure that they're not forced to provide an item at a loss. Under the median price methodology, half of the "winning" bidders will be paid for DME at a rate below what they bid. The final rule on competitive bidding doesn't say whether those providers can withdraw from the program.

* Make distinctions between long-term care facilities, home health agencies and DME companies, which require different skills. The letter states: "DME companies are not equipped to service the needs of LTC facilities, which may serve 10 to 20 enteral patients. In addition, suppliers not currently serving the homecare market will have to make significant changes in the way they operate and service their customers, including carrying products with which they are unfamiliar. Patient care may be at risk as suppliers learn and adapt to new markets."