TURRELL, Ark., Oct. 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than 2,000 Medicare patients, including Arkansas residents, have called an organization, People for Quality Care, desperately seeking assistance because their health and quality of life is being jeopardized by Medicare's bidding program for home medical equipment. Yet, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), insists there have only been a few complaints associated with the bidding program.
But Victor Williams, 61, of Turrell, Ark., is one of many Medicare beneficiaries who are suffering because they can't get repairs or new home medical equipment through the badly flawed bidding program that expanded to 91 new areas on July 1.
Turrell used to be a train conductor, but for the past 20 years he's mostly been homebound. A back injury in 1983 forced him to stop working, and despite five surgeries and regular cortisone shots in his joints, he's never made a full recovery. He started using a power wheelchair ten years ago and found it extremely helpful, but for the past two years it's been breaking down.
Despite originally being promised a replacement chair on January 1, 2013, he's now been told that he's not eligible. His new supplier, he says, told him he doesn't need one. "When the chair's not working," Turrell says, "I don't go anywhere…It's how I get around in my house."
Since the chair doesn't work about a third of the time he tries to use it, he's started using an "old, raggedy" manual wheelchair, which is hard to maneuver due to his chronic back and joint pain. There's no one helping Victor at home. "I'm depressed all the time," he said. "I'm about to turn 62, and I'm not getting stronger; I'm getting weaker."
Turrell has made numerous calls to his medical supplier, called his congressman, and submitted all the forms he's been told to submit, but his outlook is bleak. "The only thing I can do," he said, "is use the chair until it totally quits. My doctor tells me I need one. He says I've got some of the worst bones he's ever seen. But unless they change this competitive bid system, I don't think I'll be getting a chair."
Despite CMS claims to the contrary, people like Turrell are suffering because of the badly mismanaged Medicare bidding program. It has put hundreds of providers of durable medical equipment (DME) out of business, created equipment shortages, and left beneficiaries without doctor-prescribed equipment, such as oxygen tanks, power wheelchairs, hospital beds, walkers, and diabetic supplies.
AAHomecare has contacted several Medicare patients who are not receiving quality service or equipment because of the bidding program. Turrell's story is one of many.
"It's disturbing that CMS is claiming everything is fine when people are suffering," said Tom Ryan, president of the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare). "The bidding program is bad public policy that needs to be fixed or stopped. CMS must acknowledge the real problems that Medicare patients are encountering. How can they expect anyone to believe that they have only received a handful of complaints when more than 2,000 people have reached out to a private organization for help addressing their problems?"
According to a May 2012 Government Accountability Office report titled Review of the First Year of CMS's Durable Medical Equipment Competitive Bidding Program's Round 1 Rebid, the agency may be intentionally undercounting the number of problems. "CMS's definition of inquiry and complaint may be an optimistic characterization of beneficiary calls," the report states. "According to CMS, all calls are first classified as inquiries and are only classified as complaints when they remain unresolved by CSRs [customer service representatives]." However, CMS considers giving a caller a list of companies to research on their own sufficient. There is no assistance given and no follow-up done to ensure that beneficiaries get what they need.
Ryan said that CMS hasn't changed the way it classifies calls from beneficiaries or the level of assistance they give, so it is not surprising that their numbers are unrealistically low. However, he believes that even the People for Quality Care number is "just the tip of the iceberg."
The American Association for Homecare represents providers of home medical or durable medical equipment and services who serve the needs of millions of Americans who require prescribed oxygen therapy, wheelchairs, enteral feeding, and other medical equipment, services, and supplies at home. Visit www.aahomecare.org.
SOURCE American Association for Homecare