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BOISE, Idaho - The state's Medicaid program, among other things, froze payments to home medical equipment providers for three weeks in June as a way to end its fiscal year in the black.

"It's not the Medicaid recipient's fault, so we're not going to allow them to suffer at all," said Mike Colbath, the operations manager at Eagle Rock Oxygen in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and president of the Big Sky Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (Big Sky AMES), in late May. "We're just going to hold our breath. It's a concern, but they gave us that light at the end of the tunnel so we're going to get paid, just not right away."

Medicaid is expected to resume payments July 1.

Providers say that's probably not the end of the story, though. Medicaid officials have already planted the seed that they're looking for a more permanent way to save money. They've already thrown around two ideas for DME: "some type of managed care contracts or selective contracts," says provider Troy Paz.

"They say they need about $4 million worth of cuts from us in 2011," said Paz, general manager of Maag Medical in Pocatello, Idaho, and a board member of Big Sky AMES.

Providers take some solace that they're not alone. Other providers, like hospitals and nursing homes, had their payments frozen for eight to 12 weeks. Also, the state has closed several of its Medicaid offices completely and closed all other offices on Fridays.

"We're trying to be proactive," said Paz. "We're meeting with Medicaid officials every other month to discuss issues."


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