Snowbirds flock, providers squawk

Sunday, November 30, 2008

YARMOUTH, Maine--As brisk weather sweeped across much of the nation in November, so-called snowbirds prepared for their annual trek to warmer climates. But thanks to the 36-month oxygen cap, which goes into effect Jan. 1, some travelers may get a cool reception.

“We’ve contacted all of the oxygen providers in Miami, Orlando and Tampa and they’ve all agreed they’re not going to accept Medicare assignment for anyone who’s going to be capping this season,” said Rob Brant, president of the Accredited Medical Equipment Providers of America (AMEPA). “The only way we can provide oxygen is if patients pay upfront out of their own pockets.”

Per CMS guidance released in October, it’s the responsibility of the original provider to either continue providing service or find another provider.

Because some providers started receiving calls from snowbirds before the guidance was released, they developed their own methods for dealing with traveling patients. One provider in Florida, for example, told providers “up north” that they would be responsible for monthly rental fees for their traveling patients.

“They don’t like it at all because if the patient’s capping out in January, they’ve got no revenue coming for that machine for six months,” said Alan Cross, co-owner of Bradenton-based C & C Homecare. “I’m telling them, ‘That’s fine, but you’ve got to pay me monthly. This is not my patient.’”