If I'm an idiot, then what is CMS?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk at HME News' world headquarters here in Yarmouth, Maine, when as often happens, my phone rang. I picked up the receiver and said, "Hello, this is Mike."

The woman on the other end identified herself as the DME trainer for Jurisdictions A&B. She worked, she told me, for National Government Services (the Jurisdiction B MAC, which serves 19,500 DME suppliers) and also for the NHIC (the J14 MAC for New England). She seemed very nice and very competent.

After our brief introduction, she requested contact information for CMS's Jim Bossenmeyer. You know Bossenmeyer, right? He's the guy who confused most of the HME industry at a May open door forum. When asked several times during the forum if DME claims needed to be PECOS compliant by July 6 (they do), Bossenmeyer (the bureaucrat's bureaucrat) gave a rambling, convoluted answer that left me and everyone else, it seemed, wondering what he'd said.

Turns out, not surprisingly, that a bunch of providers called this DME trainer and asked her to clear up the confusion. She, in turn, called me for Bossenmeyer's contact information. I just about had a stroke.

"Why the heck are you calling me?" I said, "You're a Medicare contractor--don't you know how to get in touch with CMS?"

I was fighting mad and had to remind myself to stay calm.

"I would like to talk to this Jim Bossenmeyer instead of going through three different contacts," she said.

Certainly, I felt her pain. I don't know how many times I've called someone only to be passed on to someone else and then to someone else and then on and on and on until I wanted to bang my head against a wall. Still, I was incredulous. Here I had a CMS contractor asking me to help her reach someone at CMS. It's absurd that I should have to say this but here I go: No one who works for or with CMS should ever have to call HME News for CMS contact information. Is that too much to ask from an agency that oversees nearly $500 billion a year in government spending? I guess so.

Something similar happened to me last September. That's when a guy from the GAO called me for market data on the HME industry. When I wrote a blog that called this inquiry strange (why didn't this guy contact CMS directly?), some very polite guy who identified himself as "a former GAO analyst" called me an "idiot."

Well, if I was an idiot then, then I'm an idiot now, but if that's the case, what the heck is CMS?