Round 2021: All eyes on CMS

‘We’re beginning to see a surge, and we don’t know what the fall and winter will bring’
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Thursday, July 2, 2020

WASHINGTON – There’s no crystal ball, but after two meetings with high-level CMS officials in late June, industry stakeholders feel there could be a chance the agency pauses Round 2021 of competitive bidding.

Stakeholders have made the case that the bids providers submitted last year no longer hold up amid supply chain and other issues raised by the coronavirus pandemic, and that the agency should delay the start of the program for one year or through the public health emergency, whichever is longer.

“(CMS) is much more open now than they were before to pausing (Round 2021),” said Seth Johnson, senior vice president of government affairs for Pride Mobility Products, during a recent webcast hosted by NCART, NRRTS, The Clinician Task Force and U.S. Rehab. “We’re hopeful that there will be some information from the agency in the next few weeks.”

CMS is scheduled to announce single payment amounts for Round 2021 this summer and contract suppliers in the fall, and kick off the program Jan. 1.

To avoid possible litigation, CMS will want to make a decision on whether or not to pause the program before announcing contract suppliers in the fall, stakeholders believe.

“CMS has to make a decision sooner rather than later,” said Cara Bachenheimer, chair of the government affairs practice at Brown & Forunato.

In recent meetings, CMS officials, including Demetrios Kouzoukas, principal deputy administrator & director of the Center of Medicare, “asked all the right questions,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare, and “we laid out our case well.”

“They don’t show their hand, but when we asked them if they needed anything else from us, they said they had all the information they needed,” he said.

The rank-and-file at CMS, however, are still moving forward with the program and will do so until told otherwise, stakeholders say.

“They’re full speed ahead,” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for VGM & Associates. “That’s to be expected, but they haven’t added anything like, ‘unless something changes’ or ‘if guidelines aren’t adjusted,’ so I don’t get the warm fuzzies from them.”

Still, with the issues created by the pandemic only intensifying—new cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in an increasing number of states and even the World Health Organization has warned of a shortage of oxygen concentrators—CMS may have no choice but to pause the program, stakeholders say.

“We’re beginning to see a surge, and we don’t know what the fall and winter will bring,” Ryan said. “We have to have the ability to have the HME community helping hospitals with capacity.”