From: VGM

WATERLOO, Iowa – A study released Monday reveals that calling the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services results in at least a five-minute wait before a human voice is heard.

An independent accounting firm, Hogan-Hansen PC of Waterloo, Iowa, conducted the study for Last Chance for Patient Choice, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending competitive bidding for home medical equipment, and the American Association for Homecare.

“It is our belief that there have been and continue to be large numbers of beneficiaries negatively impacted by the CMS bidding scheme, and we believe there are numerous problems with CMS’ alleged monitoring of complaints,” said Mike Mallaro, LCPC president and CFO of VGM Group, Inc. “The independent findings of Hogan-Hansen are strong evidence that CMS has not provided adequate means for the frail elderly and disabled people hurt by bidding scheme to voice their displeasure and report disruptions to their health care.”

In an April 17 report, CMS claimed it had only received 151 complaints about competitive bidding in 2011. The Hogan-Hansen study provides some insight into those numbers.

    • On average, it takes a caller to CMS more than five minutes before they reach a live person. This finding is based on a sample of 100 random calls to CMS over a two-month period.
    • The five-minute time frame contrasts with the average of less than 20 seconds that it takes to reach a live person at any of 100 random HME providers sampled, day and night. In calls to HME providers, 90 percent of the callers reached a live person in under one minute. In attempting to reach CMS, not a single one of the 100 calls reached a live person in under one minute.
    • The accounting firm also asked the CMS phone team if the new competitive bidding rules would apply in their designated ZIP code. In all 100 calls, the caller used a Round 2 bid area as their home ZIP code, but 96 percent of the time, CMS told them their ZIP code wasn’t in Round 2. More disturbing is that CMS indicated that the specific piece of HME (oxygen, hospital bed or wheelchair) was not covered by competitive bidding now or in the future, indicating that employees giving out information know little about the program.

“The survey results indicated a shocking lack of accessibility to CMS, and explain why CMS alleges to have not received many complaints,” Mallaro said.