Stevem Koff/Plain Dealer Bureau Chief
Friday May 29, 2009, 5:28 PM 

WASHINGTON — Companies that supply hospital beds, wheelchairs and other durable medical equipment to Medicare patients’ homes will have to submit bids — once again — this fall if they hope to service the Cleveland or Cincinnati markets.

Until then, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, or CMS, will give companies the summer to get properly licensed and qualify for bidding. CMS has not set a firm date for competitive bidding but has a fall goal and a legal requirement to have the pilot program going in Cleveland, Cincinnati and select other markets in January.

The summer phase, announced by CMS on Friday, is a double-edged sword for companies like Miller’s Rental and Sales, of Akron, and Integrated Medical, Inc., of Cleveland. They felt burned by the government’s short-lived bidding experiment, halted by Congress last year.

 

Both companies want to continue providing medical equipment to patients’ homes. The summer period could give the industry time to better understand all the requirements.

But that also gives out-of-state companies time to meet Ohio licensing requirements, enabling them to compete to take away business from Ohio firms — and to limit customer choice. During last year’s flawed bidding, Ohio companies say, an out-of-state firm whose main business is power scooters and wheelchairs won a bid to provide oxygen services in Cleveland — even though it was not licensed by the Ohio Respiratory Care Board. Meantime, Miller’s Rental, in business for 60 years, was rejected on a technicality, as were many other local businesses, according to industry managers including Johnny Miller, home care manager of family-owned Miller’s.

“That was very upsetting to us,” said Jennifer Sylvester, executive director of Integrated, who like Miller says the CMS procedures are still poorly planned. “If we lose based on pricing, that’s one thing,” Sylvester said. “But if we lose to a provider that has never provided that kind of service, it’s kind of scary for the customer.”

CMS says it is fixing the flaws. Its Program Advisory and Oversight Committee, which includes members from the industry, meets next week to continue that work.

Many company managers and the American Association for Homecare want to scrap or slow down the program, saying CMS has failed to reform it enough. Some members of Congress agree.

Asked if the industry wants to rescind the bidding process, Miller said, “That’s our ultimate goal.”