Florida delays start of comp. bidding

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - It appears HME providers in Florida have prevailed in stalling the state's competitive bidding project for oxygen equipment and supplies and hospital beds.

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), which administers the Medicaid program, has acknowledged that the start date for the project has been pushed back due to two roadblocks. In June, the agency and the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES) went head-to-head in court, and the two sides now wait for a judge's decision. Then early last month, in what became the straw that broke the camel's back, providers submitted protests contesting seven of the 11 bids AHCA awarded to providers.

"I'm thinking we're not going to get started until January 1 of next year," said Connie Ruggles, senior management analyst for the deputy secretary for Medicaid. "With a six-month transition period, it won't really get going until June 30 [2003]."

AHCA planned to sign contracts with winning bidders by June 28, 2002, and it planned to kick off the project July 1, 2002.

Ruggles said AHCA could have moved forward with the contracts regardless of the lawsuit by including a clause stating the contracts would be null and void if the agency lost, but "there's a very fixed process for handling protests." Ruggles said AHCA would have to meet with the protesters to go over why they're contesting the awards. She said she expects little to come from their negotiations.

"They're going to say, 'Give us the contract instead,' and we're going to say, 'We can't,'" Ruggles said.

So, AHCA will likely file papers for an administrative hearing, leaving the fate of the project in the hands of an administrative law judge. The process will take a minimum of three months.

Ruggles doesn't seem upset by the delay, however. She admitted that AHCA's timeline for the project might have been overly ambitious. The agency still has some "complicated computer system work" to complete before it can handle transitioning beneficiaries to the winning bidders.

The only regions not protested by providers were four of the six regions won by Rotech. Ruggles said AHCA could have proceeded with signing contracts for those regions, but it wants "a uniform transition period." HME