Competitive bidding: Industry stuck in holding pattern

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WASHINGTON - The HME industry is getting fed up with not knowing when CMS plans to release the names of providers who will participate in Medicare's competitive bidding program.

"The lack of communication, and the lack of information is leading to rampant rumors and misinformation, and we find that very frustrating," said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare. "We really don't know what's going on."

CMS had originally planned to release the names of the winning bidders in September. During an Oct. 14 Open Door Forum, however, CMS officials revealed that the agency had identified a number of "red flags" while testing a new program integrity tool on the winning bidders.

CMS said it would delay naming the winning bidders until it fixed those red flags, but don't expect the agency to delay the bidding program's Jan. 1, 2011 start date, say industry watchers.

Some believe that CMS won't release the names of the winning bidders until after next week's elections.

"I don't think anybody in Washington is going to give anything a second thought between now and election day," said Wayne Stanfield, president of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES). "Talking to anyone right now is like talking into the wind."

Still, providers keep trying.

Wheelchairs Plus in Grand Rapids, Minn., hosted democratic Sen. Al Franken on Oct. 14.

"I think it went very, very well," said Laurie Nivala, showroom sales associate, who arranged the hour-long visit. "I gave him a packet with all kinds of information, and I plan to follow up with him."

When lawmakers return to Washington in mid-November, there's a good chance they'll take up the issue of competitive bidding again. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., has expressed interest in rescheduling a hearing that was originally slated for September.

"We need to keep our (issues) alive and in 3-D in the minds of members of Congress," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "It could get intense between Thanksgiving and Christmas."