Industry questions competitive bidding timeline

Sunday, August 9, 2009

WASHINGTON - CMS's more detailed timeline for national competitive bidding, released last week, 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 last week. "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?"

CMS's complete timeline:

Aug. 17: Registration for user IDs and passwords begins.

Sept. 30: Last day for providers to get accredited.

Oct. 2: Deadline for surety bond requirement.

Oct. 21: CMS opens bid window for Round 1.2.

Nov. 21: Deadline for bidders to submit financial documents.

Dec. 21: Bidding window closes.

June 2010: CMS announces winning bid amounts and begins contracting process.

September 2010: CMS announces winning bidders and begins contract provider campaign.

Early Fall 2010: CMS begins supplier, referral agent and beneficiary education campaign.

Jan. 1, 2011: CMS implements program.