As NCB deadline nears, questions mount

Sunday, June 24, 2007

WASHINGTON - In a display of concern and confusion, HME providers spent four hours last week barraging CMS officials with questions about competitive bidding during two teleconferences.

Providers in the first 10 competitive bidding areas (CBAs) must submit their bids by July 13.

During the June 21 teleconference--an open call--questions ran the gamut from what will happen if CMS needs clarification on a provider's bid (the agency will e-mail or fax, giving providers a certain amount of time to respond) to how to crosswalk utilization from the old to new codes for power wheelchairs (take utilization for the new codes so far this year and apply it to the old codes).

Several providers noted technical difficulties using the online bidding system. One provider said that, despite several retries, her CBA and product category fail to show up on the summary for Form A. Another provider said he had he spent five hours entering information into the system only to have it crash before the system allowed him to save the information.

"All I'm trying to say here is we're talking about a lot of man hours for you to get to the process," he said.

CMS officials suggested providers with technical difficulties call the help desk (877-577-5331).

One caller, after hearing in two previous questions that providers must submit a commercial credit score, asked CMS officials to clarify what they want in the required credit reports.

"A number of companies have requested and obtained credit reports from Dun & Bradstreet or one of the other agencies and I'm just wondering what specific components those reports have to have," he said. "Some of the reports don't have a commercial score."

CMS officials acknowledged that not all credit reports have scores and that providers need to submit reports with scores. In the case of D&B, providers must request a commercial credit score between 101-660.

The caller said: "It's critical that you put in writing what these reports have to have, because I'm really concerned some of these reports might not meet whatever the requirements are."

CMS officials said they would post additional information on the competitive bidding implementation contractor (CBIC) Web site (

Several questions concerned total estimated capacity. CMS officials pointed out that capacities won't be used to rank bids, only to ensure there are enough providers to service each CBA. Officials said they couldn't give providers a formula for determining their capacities.

Many questions concerned common ownership rules. CMS officials asked providers to e-mail them with company-specific questions and information (

During the June 20 teleconference:

With so many HMEs considered small suppliers--for competitive bidding purposes, annual revenues of $3.5 million or less--CMS officials reiterated its commitment to awarding 30% of contracts to small suppliers.

Within a competitive bidding area (CBA), if there are not enough small suppliers who bid at or below the pivotal bid, CMS will select additional small suppliers who are above the pivotal bid for the product category. The process will be continued until the 30% target is reached or there are no more competitive bids submitted by small suppliers.

In order to lower bidding costs, expand service options or obtain more favorable purchasing terms, small suppliers may band together in networks of as few as two but no more than 20 members.

When meeting the 30% goal, each network member will be counted individually as a supplier. But, if a network with 10 members wins a contract in an area where only three small suppliers are needed, CMS will accept all 10 members of the network to meet and exceed its goal.

Rules to remember when bidding as a network, according to CMS officials:

* If you plan to bid as a network, you must form a single legal entity. All legal contracts must be in place and signed before the network may submit a bid.

* Each member of the network must be independently eligible to bid. If all the network members don't meet the minimum eligibility requirement, the network will not receive further consideration.

* Only small suppliers that are unable to serve the entire CBA independently may join the network.

* Network members can only join one network per product category per CBA.

* If you are a member of a network, you may not bid for the same product separately for which the network submits a bid in the same CBA. However, you can bid for the same product in a different CBA.