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Seniors in Florida Report Problems Obtaining Needed Home Medical Equipment and Services Under Controversial Medicare Bidding System
Date:2/25/2011

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 25, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Medicare beneficiaries are reporting problems receiving required home medical equipment and services in the wake of the January 1, 2011 implementation of Medicare's controversial "competitive" bidding program in Miami and Orlando, according to the American Association for Homecare. The program will affect many of the more than one million seniors and people living with disabilities in Miami and Orlando who are enrolled in Medicare.

The bidding program is scheduled to start up in an additional 91 regions later this year, including 7 metropolitan statistical areas of Florida where another 1.3 million Medicare beneficiaries live: the Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Lakeland, Melbourne, Sarasota, and Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan statistical areas.

The program applies to oxygen therapy, enteral nutrients (tube feeding), continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) and respiratory assistive devices, power wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds and support surfaces, and mail-order diabetic supplies.

By design, this new Medicare program will severely restrict the number of companies that are allowed to provide the equipment and services subject to bidding, which hurts both patients and providers. Since January 1, patients, clinicians, and homecare providers have already reported:

  • Difficulty finding a local equipment or service provider;
  • Delays in obtaining medically required equipment and services;
  • Longer than necessary hospital stays due to confusion in discharging patients to home-based care;
  • Far fewer choices for patients when selecting equipment or providers;
  • Reduced quality; and
  • Confusing or incorrect information provided by Medicare.

"Competitive bidding is an utter disaster yet Medicare says there are no reported problems," said Sean Schwinghammer, executive director of Florida Alliance of Home Care Services. "Congress must take action and repeal this program before the situation becomes even more dire."

Since January 1, 2011, the American Association for Homecare has logged more than 250 complaints about the bidding program from patients, providers, and case managers.

Schwinghammer said, "Competitive bidding is unfairly harming the health of Medicare patients in Florida and hurting local businesses in an already struggling economy. In Miami and Orlando, we are seeing patients being sent to emergency rooms to receive services that were once standard at-home procedures for them. We are witnessing local providers that have been around for more than 20 years being put out of business by out-of-area companies. Patients are calling us on the phone in tears, and we've heard from doctors and other providers who are worried as well."

The American Association for Homecare shared a number of problems with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) earlier in January including:

  • Winning companies awarded contracts by Medicare that are bankrupt.
  • Winning companies that are not licensed to provide items or services.  
  • Winning companies that have credit problems.
  • Incorrect information distributed by Medicare about the contract winners and which beneficiaries need to change home medical equipment providers.

The design and implementation of the bidding system alarm Schwinghammer and more than 167 leading economists and auction experts, including two Nobel laureates, who warned Congress that this bidding system will fail.  The economic experts who predict failure are not opposed to competitive bidding for Medicare, and in fact many of them design market-based auction systems. But they found that this particular bidding program, as it is designed by CMS, has irreparable flaws that will prevent it from achieving its objectives of low cost and high quality equipment and services.

Their warning letter to Congress concludes, "This collection of problems suggests that the program over time may degenerate into a 'race to the bottom' in which suppliers become increasingly unreliable, product and service quality deteriorates, and supply shortages become common. Contract enforcement would become increasingly difficult and fraud and abuse would grow."

Also opposing the controversial bidding program are more than a dozen national consumer and patient advocacy groups including the ALS Association, American Association of People with Disabilities, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Council on Independent Living, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, and United Spinal Association.

Last year, a bipartisan group of 257 members of the U.S. House of Representatives supported legislation to repeal the controversial bidding program.

Medicare beneficiaries, family members, caregivers, hospital discharge planners, and clinicians can report problems, concerns, and feedback about this bidding system by calling a toll-free number, 1-888-990-0499, or by visiting the website: www.biddingfeedback.com.  To learn more, visit www.aahomecare.org/competitivebidding.    

The American Association for Homecare represents durable medical equipment providers, manufacturers, and other organizations in the homecare community. Members serve the medical needs of millions of Americans who require oxygen equipment and therapy, mobility assistive technologies, medical supplies, inhalation drug therapy, home infusion, and other medical equipment and services in their homes. The Association's members operate more than 3,000 homecare locations in all 50 states. Visit www.aahomecare.org/athome.

The Florida Alliance of Home Care Services is the state association for home medical equipment providers and providers of diabetic and consumable medical supplies.  Visit www.fahcs.org.


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SOURCE American Association for Homecare
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