published Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Medical equipment suppliers face voided contract


by Chris Carroll

WASHINGTON — More than 30 percent of Tennessee's Medicare suppliers of "durable medical equipment" did not meet licensing requirements and will have their Volunteer State contracts voided, officials announced Wednesday.

On May 23, Tennessee's 11-member congressional delegation wrote a letter asking whether the Obama administration improperly awarded competitively bid Medicare contracts.

Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, responded Wednesday. Of 98 "durable medical equipment" suppliers, 68 met Tennessee's requirements and 30 did not, Tavenner said.

Durable medical equipment includes products intended for at-home care of sick or injured individuals. The category includes wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds and oxygen equipment.

When asked for a list of suppliers, congressional offices referred inquires to Medicare officials who said they could not provide a list of suppliers at this time.

Officials said the voided suppliers were licensed in their home states but did not have a physical presence in Tennessee, as required by state law.

The contracts weren't effective until July 1, so they just won't go into effect, CMS said Wednesday.

Even with 30 dud deals, CMS said it believes it will have sufficient suppliers to meet patient demand.

"Given the large number of in-state suppliers, including grandfathered suppliers, we are confident that beneficiaries will continue to have access to a wide variety of quality items and services in the state," Tavenner wrote.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she doubted that.

"I worry that Medicare beneficiaries in Tennessee will not have sufficient options to receive necessary durable medical equipment, given the large number of voided bids," she said in a statement.

Blackburn spokesman Mike Reynard would not say how the delegation learned of the issue. Businesses across Tennessee complained, he said, but "we're not going to name companies."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-280-2025.

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