Fix the sham bidding program
From: USA Today/Opposing View
Tyler J. Wilson
In 2003, Congress required Medicare to ensure that medical equipment and supplies used by beneficiaries at home (known as “durable medical equipment,” or DME) are procured through a system that increases competition and achieves market-based prices, but doesn’t diminish quality. Unfortunately, Medicare has completely mismanaged the design and implementation of its bidding program for home oxygen equipment, power wheelchairs, diabetic supplies and other critical home medical products.
More than 240 economists, two dozen consumer groups, almost 200 members of Congress and the National Federation of Independent Business have denounced the current Medicare bidding program. At the same time, the DME industry is ready and willing to support a system with three core principles: true market-based prices, binding bids and transparency.
But the current program is a sham. It imposes a contract price anywhere between the lowest and highest accepted bids. At the same time, bids are non-binding. Suppliers can submit unrealistically low bids for products and services, with no obligation to accept a contract. Yet, those same bids are used to establish an absurd price in a murky process that never discloses how prices are determined. In effect, it is government administered pricing, not competitive bidding.
The bidding program won’t save nearly as much on DME costs as Medicare claims because costs are being shifted to other Medicare categories. When Medicare beneficiaries aren’t able to receive equipment, they will be forced to go to the emergency room, and their hospital stays will be even longer.
When the program expands to 91 new locations this summer, arbitrary reimbursement cuts will average 45% for DME. Already, providers have announced layoffs, and companies are closing. Beneficiaries will suffer as the network of Medicare providers is dismantled.
In a video explaining her plight, Trisha Blackwell, a beneficiary in Florence, Ky., tells how an oxygen provider who visited her monthly was replaced with a company that never checked on her and ignored pleas for assistance. “I can’t tell you … how scary it is to sit on the side of the bed wondering if you will be able to draw your next breath,” she says, explaining the anxiety she faced with the new supplier assigned through the bidding program.
People like Trisha will continue to suffer until Congress changes this program.
Tyler J. Wilson is president of the American Association for Homecare, a national organization that represents the home medical equipment and services industry.