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Medicare program concerns businesses, patients

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DURHAM -- For many patients, their first stop after being released from the hospital is at a medical supply store. Under some new federal changes though, patients might not be able to pick which store they go to.

“It’s going to eliminate patient access,” said Marcia Ladd, owner of Triangle Aftercare in Durham. “It’s going to restrict patient choice and its going to eliminate probably 80-90 percent of the durable medical equipment businesses in this country.”

Ladd says the idea of forcing businesses to offer equipment for the lowest price and cut out their competitors completely ignores the fact their business is about more than just equipment. “And when you treat an industry that is service driven like our industry as if your bidding for containers, that's stupid,” added Ladd.

The North Carolina Association of Medical Equipment Services agrees with this assessment. They say this will lead to one store providing one piece of equipment, and another, a different one. Their fear is keeping track of which store has what might prove too much for elderly Medicare patients.

“Who do they call?” asked Beth Bowen, NCAMES executive director. “If they can't figure it out who do they call, they go to the hospital.”

Bowen says this is an option that will end up costing the patients and the Medicare program more money. An identical bidding process was tried in 2008, but Congress cut it off because of problems.

“There were providers that got bids in that area ... that had never ever provided oxygen to a patient, and they won an oxygen bid,” said Bowen.

This round of bidding has already taken place in Charlotte, and is expected to go into effect in January of 2011. Asheville, Greensboro and Raleigh will face the same process next year.

Ladd says she understands wanting to save money, but doesn't believe this is the way to do it.

“But to come in and put a program in that is as poorly planned and is as poorly executed as this competitive bidding has been just doesn't make any sense,” said Ladd.

There is a bill before Congress that would eliminate this bidding process, but force providers to cut cost for Medicare patients. Industry members say they prefer this option.

NCAMES will be discussing this issue in their annual winter meeting in Greensboro later this week.

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