One month into the new Medicare durable good competitive bidding program for the Twin Cities region, area medical suppliers and clients are already reporting some problems. Some clients have had to drop longtime suppliers to receive goods from approved out-of-area companies. Others are raising questions about the quality of supplies received from the new vendors.
Even though medical supply corporations throughout the region did extensive outreach prior to the July 1 change, company officials said there is still confusion. There is also concern that longstanding relationships between suppliers and clients are being lost as clients are switched to approved suppliers.
A lawsuit over competitive bidding continues to make its way through the court system. Key Medical Supply of Shoreview took its dispute over competitive bidding to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Key Medical sued Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and Marilyn Tavenner, Acting Administrator of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
“We’re still hearing a lot of concerns and questions and we have lost some long-time customers,” said Jeffrey Hall, chief executive officer of Reliance Medical Supply. The company has locations in Brooklyn Park, Waite Park and Buffalo. “Not a day goes by that we don’t hear from a customer who is upset about the changes.”
Suppliers are getting questions about how equipment such as wheelchairs and beds will be maintained in the event of a problem. People are already calling because they cannot find proper repair help. Some suppliers also said they are already hearing about people paying out-of-pocket rather than dealing with unfamiliar suppliers. But for some clients, that isn’t an option. Another issue consumers are raising nationally is that some of the CMS chosen suppliers may be picking and choosing who gets served.
July 1 was when new federal regulations on competitive bidding for Medicare program suppliers took effect for the Twin Cities region. CMS’ nationwide competitive bidding program is the result of 2003 federal legislation that scrapped price controls in favor of a bidding process. Supporters of the change argued that applying free market principles and requiring durable medical equipment companies to compete with each other reduce federal Medicare expenditures and guarantee that clients would have access to quality goods and service.
But opponents said forcing people to change supply providers, receive supplies far from their homes and possibly get inferior quality goods and services could be the unintended consequences. Suppliers who weren’t chosen or didn’t choose to participate in the program are worried about being priced out of the market.
“As this goes on I think we’re going to see a lot of unintended consequences,” said Mike Bailey, chief executive officer of St. Paul-based Handi Medical Supply. Another worry he and others have raised is that the number of complaints about the program won’t be accurately report.
The Iowa-based advocacy group People for Quality Care has waged an online campaign to educate the public about the possible consequences of competitive bidding. People for Quality Care’s mission is to educate people with disabilities, seniors, and their caregivers, families and friends about health policy changes that affect freedom of choice. The group has a Facebook page and a website, www.peopleforqualitycare.org.
The group has been promoting a hotline that people can call to make complaints. As of the end of July more than 1,000 calls had been made. One of the most common complaints is that people are having to pay out-of-pocket for the goods they need instead of having them covered.
Congress has legislation pending that would delay implementing round two of competitive bidding until a number of issues can be resolved, in the form of the Transparency and Accountability in Medicare Bidding Act. Action on that is pending, as Congress is in recess until early September.
To contact a member of Congress to raise questions or concerns about competitive bidding, go to http://mn.gov/portal/government/federal/congress/minnesota-delegation.jsp Use the link to find the House member for a specific district or to contact the state’s two senators.