White House refuses lawmakers' request for winners of DME competitive bidding program

The Obama administration this week rebuffed a request from House lawmakers that Medicare announce the first round winners of the agency's competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment (DME).

"We do not believe it would be appropriate or in the public interest to release any bidders' names before the contracting process is complete, as there are a number of risks associated with doing so," Donald Berwick, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), wrote in an Aug. 30 letter to Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.).

Altmire had spearheaded the lawmakers' request that CMS announce the winners more quickly.

"Without knowing the identity as well as the appropriate overall qualifications of these providers, we cannot evaluate the program's impact in terms of quality and access to care for seniors we represent," the lawmakers wrote in an Aug. 11 letter to Berwick.

More than 130 House members representing both parties endorsed the move. 

CMS has said it will announce the contract winners later in September, "once all contracts have been finalized."

Berwick reiterated that timeline Monday, arguing that providing "interim lists" of winning bidders would both confuse beneficiaries and undermine "the orderly and effective implementation of the program."

"In addition, we have not yet notified the suppliers whose bids were not among the winning bids, and we believe that these suppliers should be notified before the names of the suppliers with winning bids are released to the public," Berwick wrote. 

"Further, announcing a subset of suppliers before the contracting process is complete could be viewed as giving those suppliers an unfair competitive advantage." 

Finally, Berwick added, "standard procurement rules prohibit disclosing the identities of bidders until after contracts are final."

Medicare's competitive bidding program is designed to control costs and rein in fraud in the durable medical equipment industry.

In July, CMS announced Medicare patients in the nine regions affected by the first round of the program would save, on average, 32 percent on DME products, which include oxygen supplies, power wheelchairs and hospital beds.

The DME lobby, however, says the program will put many small companies out of business, threatening seniors' access to vital equipment. The industry has fought to have the program scrapped altogether. 

This post was updated at 1:51 p.m.