Industry calls competitive bidding system ‘slow, primitive’

Sunday, July 15, 2007

WASHINGTON – The online system for submitting bids for national competitive bidding continues to test the patience of providers, even after a special teleconference last week with CMS officials.

Providers who plan to participate in competitive bidding must submit bids by July 20.

One of the most frequent glitches: When providers log into the system to check or update data they’ve already entered and saved, it’s often gone or moved to other fields. Providers also report confusion over whether they can enter zero to describe how many units of a product they’ve provided in a competitive bidding area over the last year.

“This is a slow, primitive computer system prone to failure,” said Walt Gorski, vice president of government affairs for AAHomecare. “Providers should be able to have more confidence in a system that has this magnitude of an impact on them.”

CMS officials held a teleconference July 9 to discuss technical difficulties. Their recommendations included sending information to the system at least every 30 minutes to avoid getting timed out and ignoring prompts to change e-mail accounts or the names of authorized officials. (See for other guidance.)

Few providers reported that they left the teleconference with the answers they needed.

Kim Brummett, vice president of contracting and reimbursement for Advanced Home Care, part of the Charlotte, N.C., competitive bidding area (CBA), has made it as far as she has through sheer persistence, she said. Since early June, Brummett has chipped away at bids for nine of the 10 product categories.

“The goal we set was to finish up last week, but the Web site has been so horrible,” she said. “We’re on our final bid right now (for standard and complex rehab). For people who haven’t started yet—I don’t know how they’re going to get it done.”

Even providers who’ve managed to complete bids aren’t confident that their data has gone through the system accurately.

“We’re confident of what we have on paper, but once we entered it into the system, we weren’t as confident,” said Mark Leita, director of public affairs for The Scooter Store, which has locations in multiple CBAs. “That’s extremely concerning.”

AAHomecare urges CMS to delay competitive bidding “until all individual questions are resolved and until CMS and providers have confidence in the system,” Gorski said.