Industry conflicted over extension

Friday, August 31, 2007

WASHINGTON - Providers grappled with relief and restlessness in the days following CMS's decision to extend the deadline for submitting bids for national competitive bidding to Sept. 25.
Providers like Georgie Blackburn, even though they've already submitted their bids, were relieved for providers who were still struggling with an online bidding system fraught with technical difficulties.
"Although we didn't have many problems, I'm quite aware of other providers, through no fault of their own, who experienced quite a bit of difficulty," said Blackburn, vice president of government relations and legislative affairs for Blackburn's in Tarentum, Pa., part of the Pittsburgh competitive bidding area (CBA). "So in that way, the extension is good."
At the same time, providers like Rick Perrotta, while sympathetic with struggling providers, want this train to leave the station.
"I'd like competitive bidding to happen tomorrow," said Perrotta, president of Network Medical Supply in Charlotte, N.C., one of the 10 CBAs. "That way, we can know where we stand and put a game plan in place."
The original deadline for submitting bids for competitive bidding was July 13, then July 20 and then July 27. It now plans to kick off the program July 1, 2008, instead of April 1, 2008.
Few providers who have already submitted bids plan to go back into the system to tweak their bids further.
The extension will allow some providers, especially smaller providers, who "didn't have their ducks in a row" to submit bids, said Raul Lopez, director of operations for Bayshore Dura Medical in Miami Lakes, Fla., part of the Miami CBA. Lopez is also president of the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES).
"I know of at least one provider who wasn't going to bid who will probably bid now," he said. "For smaller providers, the extra two months allows them to form subcontracting agreements. It gives them the opportunity to go out and keep looking at ways to get it done."
Provider Kim Brummett wonders whether that's a good thing.
"What does that do to the integrity of the bids?" asked Brummett, vice president of contracting and reimbursement for Advanced Home Care in Greensboro, N.C., part of the Charlotte CBA. "On the other hand, if we're getting two more months of higher allowables, I guess we should take it."
Though CMS was pressured by the industry and numerous legislators to extend the deadline for submitting bids, providers have their own theories on the agency's repeated change of heart. The word on the street: When the July 27 deadline rolled around, CMS had only about 900 bids.
"I don't think they're extending the deadline because they care about providers or because the system's screwed up," Perrotta said.