FAMES awaits judge's decision on comp. bidding

Sunday, June 30, 2002

TALAHASSEE, Fla. - An administrative law judge here has until early August to determine the fate of a lawsuit filed by the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES) that seeks to put the brakes on a competitive bidding project for Medicaid.

FAMES and officials from the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), which administers the Medicaid program, met in court June 3 and 5 to haggle over whether the state should competitively bid for oxygen equipment and supplies and hospital beds.

"I think we've got a fair judge," said Joan Cross, president of FAMES and owner, with her husband, of C&C Homecare in Bradenton, Fla. "I think our chances are better than 50% but less than 65%."

In its lawsuit, FAMES contends AHCA didn't give providers prior notice and didn't go through rule-making requirements when it released its RFP for competitive bidding in February. The association also contends the project limits the number of providers eligible to service Medicaid beneficiaries (to the tune of some 1,500 to four) and limits beneficiaries'freedom of choice.

Cross said the judge could decide to do two things in this lawsuit. He could put the brakes on competitive bidding by ordering AHCA to give providers a fee schedule reduction instead. In negotiations, Cross said FAMES offered to take up to a 6.2% across-the-board reduction. Or, he could make AHCA re-do the whole project, this time ordering the agency to give providers prior notice and comply with rule-making requirements.

Providers in Florida aren't alone in awaiting the judge's decision. It seems all eyes are on the state as competitive bidding spreads to other states, and the House of Representatives and Senate contemplate rolling it out nationally for Medicare.

At a press conference preceding AAHomecare's Legislative Conference last month, Tom Connaughton, CEO of AAHomecare, said the association has "been concerned for some time" with the spread of competitive bidding. "As states become more and more strapped for money, we're going to continue seeing it elsewhere," he said. "Look at North Carolina and Texas. The courts in Florida will hopefully slow that down."

But the industry is running out of time. AHCA has already released its notice of intent to award bids to five providers (See related story, page 9). Also, the House Ways and Means Committee recently approved a Republican-sponsored Medicare bill that includes language on national competitive bidding. HME