Providers protest comp. bidding

Friday, May 31, 2002

MIAMI - Several HME providers who have been actively protesting the state's competitive bidding project took things up a notch last month when they organized a demonstration outside a representative's office here.

On May 17, about 30 people congregated outside the office of Rep. Carlos Lacasa (R-Miami), chair of the Fiscal Responsibility Council. They reportedly attracted the attention of motorists, who doled out money for a lawsuit the Florida Association of Medical Equipment Services (FAMES) has filed against the state, and television coverage.

At the time, FAMES and providers were lobbying legislators to stop the competitive bidding project for oxygen equipment and supplies and hospital beds, but legislators have since told the association to take up their cause with the Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), which administers Medicaid (See related story, page 8).

Kathleen McConaughy, who organized the demonstration, urged passersbys to "Stop this insane idea now!" McConaughy, president of the Miami-based Alliance HomeCare Systems, also urged them to tell their representatives and senators not to support competitive bidding.

"We had kids out there on ventilators in 91-degree weather," she said. "That's how much this means to these families, and that's how much this means to my business."

McConaughy said as a small, independent business, Alliance didn't bid because it doesn't have the presence needed to accommodate the region it's in, which includes Dade and Monroe counties. The RFP for the project indicates AHCA will select one provider for each of 11 regions, with most of the regions representing a handful of counties.

"It's impossible," she said. "I think of it as going to the top of the Empire State Building and jumping off. It's really that mind boggling."

Competitive bidding, if implemented, could be crushing for Alliance. McConaughy said Medicaid makes up about 80% of the company's business.

Javier Talamo, director of clinical services for the Miami-based Pedia-Stat, wasn't at the demonstration but he and his company have been part of what has become a network of providers in the area actively protesting the project. Previous efforts have included sending thousands of letters and e-mails to representatives and senators.

Talamo said Pedia-Stat did place a bid for its region, but he's confident they'll lose in the shadow of such heavyweights as Lincare, which placed bids for all but one region, and Rotech Medical, which placed bids for all regions.

"The saddest part of what's yet to come is providers are going to lose existing patients," said Talamo, whose company does close to half of its business with Medicaid. "They're going to refuse to go, but they'll have no choice. It's not going to be pretty." HME