Industry questions competitive bidding timeline

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

WASHINGTON - CMS's more detailed timeline for national competitive bidding, released in August, has industry stakeholders scratching their heads.

The timeline calls for CMS to announce the winning bid amounts in June 2010 and announce winning bidders in September 2010. Why the two-month delay? CMS says it will use that time to begin the contracting process with winning bidders. But industry stakeholders wonder: What if CMS eliminates a winning bidder for some reason and it has to go to the next bidder on the list. Will CMS just say to that bidder: 'Here's the winning bid; will you take it?' rather than taking his higher bid into consideration to determine the winning bid amount?

"They should be releasing information (on the winning bid amounts and winning bidders) at the same time," said Cara Bachenheimer, senior vice president of government relations for Invacare, at the company's Media Day in August. "It could result in a change in price."

The timeline calls for the bidding window to open Oct. 21 and to close Dec. 21. CMS still plans to kick off the program Jan. 1, 2011.

Industry stakeholders find it interesting that, with healthcare reform and Medicare legislation set to work its way through Congress this fall, CMS picked Oct. 21 to open the bid window.

"Since we have such a long time before the bids go into effect, why are they opening the bid window before the legislative session ends?" asked Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government affairs. "Why not mid-December, when the legislative process will have run its course?"

The industry hopes to marry two HME-related provisions with healthcare reform or Medicare legislation: reforming the oxygen benefit and eliminating competitive bidding.

With oxygen reform in play, Bachenheimer asked: "How are providers going to submit bids under the current system when it could all change?"