Competitive bidding: Who's on the hook for wheelchair repairs?
WASHINGTON - Wheelchair providers in competitive bidding areas (CBAs) are passing the buck on repairs because it's unclear who should be doing them.
"What we're finding is that when a beneficiary calls up and says, 'I need a new battery,' contract suppliers say, 'I don't have to do that; you can go to any supplier,' and non-contract suppliers say, 'I can't do that,'" said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare. "So there's a lot of misunderstanding out there."
At the center of the confusion is a four-page fact sheet on repairs that CMS released in December, just before competitive bidding kicked off. In one breath, it states that any supplier can perform repairs.
In another breath, however, it states that only contract suppliers can provide the following replacement parts while performing repairs: batteries, tires, seat and back cushions (not attached to wheelchair frames), and walker tips.
"That's not the understanding that suppliers have had," Bachenheimer said. "Suppliers, including suppliers who submitted bids, thought anyone could do repairs. This is much more restrictive."
Exacerbating the situation: Neither contract suppliers nor non-contract suppliers are excited about doing repairs to begin with.
"The fee schedule amounts for items in a repair/replacement scenario under competitive bidding are much lower than they were before," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products. "Providers were already struggling to be able to provide those services at a level that would allow them to recoup their costs."
The confusion may be why Rick Perrotta, a contract supplier in the Charlotte, N.C., CBA, saw a significant uptick in the number of referrals he received for repairs in January.
"These people are telling us, 'My provider didn't get the bid; Medicare said you have to do the repair,'" said Perrotta, president of Network Medical Supply.
Stakeholders say they're working to clarify CMS's policy.