Second round of Medicare equipment bidding plan delayed

A House bill would eliminate the DME bidding program, which is projected to save Medicare more than $20 billion if left intact.

By Charles Fiegl — Posted April 14, 2011

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The agency overseeing the Medicare program has delayed the second round of a durable medical equipment bidding program that was set to expand the initiative to 91 areas in the U.S.

At its Program Advisory and Oversight Committee meeting on April 5, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that the bidding process would be delayed by six months. According to an updated timeline, bidding will open soon after the start of 2012 and close in the spring of that year. CMS subsequently will announce the suppliers that have secured contracts for 2013.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 required the agency to set up the bidding program. The first round, which required a re-bidding in 2009, identified a select set of suppliers that would be allowed to provide medical equipment for beneficiaries in Charlotte, N.C.; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas-Fort Worth; Kansas City, Mo.; Miami; Orlando, Fla.; Pittsburgh; and Riverside, Calif., starting Jan. 1, 2011. Round two was set to expand competitive bidding to scores of additional metropolitan areas.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers opposed to the competitive bidding program applauded the delay.

"CMS' decision to delay round two of the competitive bidding program shows that even it acknowledges that this program is seriously flawed," said Rep. Jason Altmire (D, Pa.). "The truth is that no matter how CMS tries to tweak its competitive bidding program, it will continue to be a fundamentally bad deal for our nation's seniors and small businesses."

Altmire and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R, Pa.) said the delay is in response to a bill they have offered to repeal DME competitive bidding. They argue that the process squeezes out smaller suppliers and eliminates beneficiary choice. The bill, the Fairness in Medicare Bidding Act, had 75 co-sponsors at this article's deadline. It would offset the estimated savings from competitive bidding by directing the Obama administration to find roughly $20 billion in unspent funds elsewhere in the budget.

The American Assn. for Homecare, which represents equipment suppliers, and the National Council on Independent Living support eliminating the competitive bidding program.

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