Congress continues push for competitive bidding answers

Sunday, April 20, 2008

WASHINGTON - Several members of Congress last week were planning to send another round of letters expressing concern over national competitive bidding.

A group of eight Republican senators plan to send a letter to Michael Leavitt, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, asking him for a personal meeting to discuss the program's status and next steps. The senators argue that the department must address certain "widespread issues," including bidders who may have been unfairly disqualified, before moving forward.

If CMS changes its mind about the disqualified bidders, the senators state the agency must also consider the consequences on bid prices.

"If additional providers' bids are accepted, the single payment amount must be re-calculated based upon the final set of wining suppliers' bids," they write. "Adding additional providers to the mix nullifies CMS' methodology for calculating the number of providers needed to reach capacity in each market. This issue must be addressed before the final list of winners is announced."

Additionally, the senators demand "more transparency from CMS to explain how bidders' financial information and service capacity were evaluated and the single payment amounts were calculated."

The senators who wrote the letter: Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; George Voinovich of Ohio; Wayne Allard of Colorado; Richard Burr of North Carolina; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; John Cornyn of Texas; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Johnny Isakson of Georgia.

Another letter, from a group of eight Democratic representatives, was sent to high-ranking Reps. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.; John Dingell, D-Mich.; Pete Stark, D-Calif.; and Frank Pallone D-N.J. The letter asks them to hold hearings to review the problems with Round 1. It also asks for a six-month delay.

In their letter, Reps. Ron Klein of Florida, Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, Christopher Carney of Pennsylvania, Albio Sires of New Jersey, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Peter Welch of Vermont, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Betty Sutton of Ohio outline the following problems with competitive bidding:

-- CMS continually overlooked small suppliers and the special protections they require;
-- The certification and application process for Round 1 was flawed;
-- CMS unfairly disqualified bidders and offered them no appeals process; and
-- CMS threw out some bids because they were too low, "even though some of these bids hand been carefully calculated to account for low utilization and to make composite bids more competitive, which is a very sensible business practice."

"As freshman members of Congress, we have continually looked to you for leadership on some of the most important issues facing this country," write the representatives. "We would not do so again if we did not adamantly believe that the problems with the competitive bidding program will significantly burden American businesses and Medicare beneficiaries in our districts as well as across the country."