What's the hold up? CMS continues to delay naming bid winners

Thursday, October 7, 2010

BALTIMORE - The HME industry sat on the edge of its seat last week, waiting for CMS to announce the names of providers who won contracts for national competitive bidding.

"We hear, anecdotally, that it is a real mixed bag out there," said Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare's senior vice president of government relations. "There are good folks who have accepted contracts. And then we hear that some people have gotten contracts and it's like, 'Who are these people?' And you do a little research and they are bankrupt."

CMS stated earlier this year that it would announce the winners in September. But September has come and gone and the winners are still a mystery.

With the program set to kick off Jan. 1, 2011, that's a problem, said Walt Gorski, AAHomecare's vice president of government affairs.

"Contract providers have to start gearing up," he said. "Providers who did not win have to start planning to wind down. And we have CMS not communicating with Congress, the provider community, the public or beneficiaries. It's disappointing."

On Friday afternoon, HME News e-mailed CMS, asking why the agency has yet to name the bid winners. A CMS official e-mailed back the following: "We will be announcing the contracts when the work on them has been completed. I don't have a timeline."

As for the reason for the delay, most industry watchers speculate that CMS has not yet found enough providers to accept contracts at the bid prices, which average 32% below the current allowable.

"It appears they are having difficulty reaching estimated capacity levels in a few of the competitive bidding areas and are going back out to other providers," said Seth Johnson, vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility.

But with Congress adjourned for October, some say the delay could be political: It makes sense that CMS might prefer to announce the winners when lawmakers are back home campaigning for the November election.

"If it turns out to be a repeat of last time, with inexperienced out-of-area providers winning contacts for products they have never carried, it makes a coordinated effort on the part of the industry to call those things into question more difficult," said Esta Willman, a member of the Program Advisory and Oversight Committee (PAOC) on competitive bidding.