Providers go weeks without pay

Sunday, September 30, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A 51-day budget stalemate caused California HME providers to go several weeks without payments from the state's Medicaid program.
The state Senate approved a $145-billion spending plan Aug. 21, but not before providers were forced to take drastic measures like laying off employees, leveraging credit lines and halting deliveries.
"We haven't had a check in about six weeks," said Mark Ehlers, owner of Ehlers Health Supply in Stockton, Calif., the day after the budget passed. "They owe us $90,000."
During budget stalemates, which aren't uncommon in the state, California uses a special fund to continue payments to government contractors. It blew through the $2-billion fund after only a few weeks, according to Bob Achermann, executive director of the California Association of Medical Product Suppliers (CAMPS).
Due to the payment freeze, Western Rehab in Santa Rosa, Calif., halted wheelchair deliveries for a week, except for emergencies.
"I took the position that, if we had to order a wheelchair, we had to pay for it, and since we weren't getting paid, we weren't going to order anything," said Mark Hawkins, president. "Our patients were supportive."
Providers expected the state to restore payments (though not with interest) in the days after the bill passed. But they didn't necessarily plan to forgive and forget.
"I have a list of (government contractors) who never stopped getting paid: hearing aide dispensers, doctors, therapists," Hawkins said. "I'm going to follow up with my representatives about that."