Mail-order program: Contract suppliers await rush

Still confusion among beneficiaries, kinks in program
Friday, July 26, 2013

YARMOUTH, Maine – Contract suppliers say they’ve seen an increase in patient volume in the first few weeks of the national mail-order program for diabetes supplies, but it’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. 

“We think only a portion of displaced patients are coming to the market (right now),” said Mike Iskra, CEO of contract supplier Diabetes Care Club.

The mail-order program went live nationwide on July 1. Because most Medicare beneficiaries likely received one final three-month shipment from their previous suppliers, it could be another month or two before they need to find a new supplier to re-order their supplies.

In the meantime, contract suppliers say they’re spending a lot of time educating beneficiaries about the program.

“There’s been some patient confusion and there’s still some miscommunication from Medicare on what patients can and cannot do,” said Marcus Suess, CEO of All States Medical Supply. “Medicare is sending them to us when we’ve publicly listed that we don’t carry certain meters, so they are confused and aggravated.”

There have been a few hiccups with the program, too. Contract supplier Frank Suess says that a few days into the program CMS listed a discontinued 1-800 number for his company, Home Health Advisors. It’s the second time that’s happened, and both times it has taken several weeks to get it corrected.

“We hired and trained people and stocked up on supplies, and for a few days we got new patients and then, somehow, the number switched back to the discontinued one,” he said. “We contacted the ombudsman, the CBIC, the National Supplier Clearinghouse—we weren’t getting anywhere.”

Suess finally contacted his congressman and senator, threatening layoffs if the problem wasn’t resolved. That did the trick, he said.

For providers who weren’t awarded contracts—in other words, the majority of them—the first few weeks of the program have meant trying to preserve what Medicare business they can, while finding new homes for other patients. Provider Paula Hardison’s father-in-law has diabetes. As of July 1, he can no longer get his supplies from Carolina Diabetic, where she is the office manager.

“We started calling around,” she said. “One never answered the phone. One said they still didn’t have their contracts in order and didn’t know what supplies they would be able to offer. One required him to switch products, but that’s a no-no.”

It is indeed, agrees contract supplier Marcus Suess, who says patients should be able to get whatever products they want, even if that means they don’t get it from him.

“If we don’t carry it, we will send them somewhere else,” he said. “We do let them know we have other options and, if they would like, we can explain them.”

With only 18 contract suppliers, the real test of the program will come when patient volumes peak, says Iskra.

“Individually and collectively, we have to be able to handle the scale,” he said. “If the contractors can’t meet demand, there’s the risk that the program fails.”