Competitive bidding program draws scrutiny

Medical supply companies and disability rights advocates are continuing the push for changes in federal competitive bidding regulations for home medical equipment. The changes, which are at the center of a recent lawsuit filed by Minnesota-based Key Medical Supply, are a concern for medical suppliers and consumers around the country.

The bidding changes are being rolled out state by state. They are tied to the Affordable Care Act. Suppliers contend the bidding requirements will make it cost-prohibitive for companies to provide equipment and for clients to be able to afford equipment and obtain it in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

The law currently being challenged requires providers to bid for Medicare contracts. The concern is that low bidders may not be locally-based providers. The low bids may not necessarily mean the lowest price and the best service for consumers who need the medical equipment for daily living.

In a history of the program, the advocacy group People for Quality Care notes that the program has been plagued by delays since it began in 2008. While competitive bidding may be seen as a way to provide cost savings, advocates and home medical equipment providers contend it will make it harder to provide equipment.

Consumers may be forced to get equipment from multiple vendors rather than relying on one firm. Equipment may cost more and in some cases be harder to find. A long-term impact could be that more people with disabilities won’t be able to stay in their homes and will be forced into institutions, which is more expensive than keeping people in their homes.

One resource on the issue is People for Quality Care. Its website includes an “understanding the issues” tab which gives an overview of what competitive bidding means for medical equipment suppliers and consumers. Go to www.peopleforqualitycare.com/

People for Quality Care also has a page on Facebook, which is regularly updated.

A home medical equipment provider from New York State has started a petition on the whitehouse.gov website urging Congress to replace the competitive bidding program with a market pricing program. It has almost 3,000 signatures but needs at least 10,000 for the White House to respond. A link can be found on the People for Quality Care Facebook page.