Competitive bidding: Industry struggles to rise above the din

Thursday, February 24, 2011

WASHINGTON - Industry stakeholders last week continued spreading the word to CMS officials and lawmakers that Medicare’s competitive bidding program just isn’t working.

At a meeting Feb. 23 in Orlando, a Round 1 competitive bidding area, Jonathan Blum, deputy director of CMS and director of the Center for Medicare, got an earful from HME providers.

"No one expressed confidence in the program," said Sean Schwinghammer, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Home Care Services. "One winner admitted they submitted suicide bids because they thought the program would go away.”

Blum was probably the most receptive audience stakeholders had last week. Although lawmakers were back in their home districts—usually a great time to make contact—pressing state budget issues from coast to coast likely made it hard for HME industry concerns to rise above the din.

“Members of Congress are thinking elsewhere,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for The VGM Group. “We’re also right smack dab in the middle of Congress trying to pass a resolution (on the federal budget)” to avoid a government shutdown.

A government shutdown could happen this Friday, March 4, if lawmakers can’t reach an agreement. Both sides have proposed short-term extensions. Gallagher’s hope is that lawmakers pass a budget before the AAHomecare Washington Legislative Conference March 16-17, so they will be free to take up other issues.

In other news, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Committee on Ways and Means have scheduled hearings this Wednesday, March 2, on efforts to combat healthcare fraud and abuse. Among the potential invited speakers: Peter Budetti, Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and Daniel Levinson, Inspector General, Office of the Inspector General.

Wayne Stanfield, president of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers, applauds efforts to curb fraud. Still, he’s wary of seeing the HME industry getting held up as an example.

“I am afraid we are again going to be branded as crooks,” he said. “DME represents less than 1% of fraud. Why not go after the other 98% or 99%?”