Rocky roll-out for program

Thursday, July 31, 2008

WASHINGTON--Despite the HME industry’s best efforts to derail it, competitive bidding kicked off on schedule July 1. Beneficiary confusion and some operational shortcomings at CMS kept providers and industry watchers busy during the program’s first few weeks.

Problems included delays in hospital discharges and beneficiaries unable to find new providers, according to AAHomecare.

“We are facing a potentially dangerous situation in which some of the most vulnerable people in our society are having difficulty getting the medical equipment they need,” stated Tyler Wilson, president and CEO of the association, in a release. “Those who are in hospitals are being forced into longer stays because equipment can’t be obtained in a timely manner.”

During a conference call July 2, CMS officials said they remained committed to a smooth transition.

“CMS will be monitoring this program closely to make sure beneficiaries are able to access products, services and suppliers, and we continue outreach with contract and non-contract suppliers,” said Mary Worstell, director of CMS’s Partner Relations Group Office of External Affairs.

In the days leading up to the program, the agency sent letters to 3.7 million affected beneficiaries and held outreach events across the country. That outreach is ongoing, said David Sayen, CMS’s San Francisco regional administrator.

“There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” he said. “It’s not a day one thing-it’s the entire month of July.”

Meanwhile, contract winners reported being busier than usual. Carol Muratore, COO of Richmond, Va.-based Home Care Delivered, a mail order diabetes provider, said her phones were ringing off the hook with calls from new customers and referral sources who had just learned they had to switch providers.

“Normally, we might have gotten two or three new referrals,” she said. “That number has tripled.”

Muratore said many of the new customers were referred from another contract winner unprepared to handle the contract.

“It’s rough; the pricing is really aggressive,” she said. “We have hired some people, but I am not comfortable extending (a lot of) job offers yet.”