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CMS Announces Efforts to Help Texas and Louisiana with Hurricane Harvey Recovery

September 1, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma has announced efforts that are underway to support Texas and Louisiana in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Earlier this week, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., declared public health emergencies in both states. Actions include temporarily waiving or modifying certain Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements to provide immediate relief to those affected by the hurricane and resulting floods.

Since the public health emergencies were declared, CMS has offered immediate administrative relief actions to Texas and Louisiana including issuing several general waivers of certain requirements for specific types of providers in impacted counties and geographical areas. These waivers work to prevent gaps in access to care for beneficiaries.

  • Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF): CMS waives requirements for a 3-day prior hospitalization before admission in order to receive Medicare SNF services and provides temporary emergency coverage of services in SNFs without a qualifying hospital stay for people who are evacuated, transferred, or otherwise dislocated due to Hurricane Harvey. Certain people with Medicare benefits who recently exhausted their SNF benefits are authorized for renewed coverage without first having to start a new benefit period.
  • Home Health Agencies: This CMS waiver provides relief to Home Health Agencies on the timeframes related to completion of OASIS (assessment data) Transmission.
  • Critical Access Hospitals (CAH): CMS waives the requirements limiting the number of patient beds to 25, and allows for length of stays beyond the capped 96-hour time period.

With the public health emergency in effect, CMS can also waive or modify certain Medicare provisions for providers, including certain deadlines, conditions of participation and certification requirements. Providers can now submit waiver requests to the state survey agency or the CMS regional office and they will be evaluated to ensure that they meet the requirements set out under the law. To help clarify billing instructions, CMS has issued technical direction to the Medicare Administrative Contractors regarding the waivers and has reminded area Medicare Advantage plans regarding their responsibilities to relax certain requirements during a disaster or emergency.

As Healthcare Informatics also reported this week, there are ongoing health IT efforts to help with the recovery as well. Two organizations that have been deeply involved in helping clinicians and patients in southeast Texas this week are Greater Houston Healthconnect (GHHC), the Houston-area HIE; and Healthcare Access San Antonio (HASA), the San Antonio-based HIE, as reported by Healthcare Informatics Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland. Hagland spoke to the Texas HIE leaders; that story can be read right here in full.

CMS and HHS are also working in close coordination with the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) Network and the States of Texas and Louisiana to ensure that beneficiaries have access to facilities to provide their treatments, officials said. As the CMS response continues, other efforts include, supporting Texas and Louisiana in arranging Special Purpose Renal Dialysis Facilities, transporting patients to facilities and arranging for new facilities to open in order to serve beneficiaries without interruption.

“In light of the natural disaster still unfolding in Texas and Louisiana, CMS is committed to acting as quickly and effectively as possible so the States can continue to ensure the vital health care needs of our most vulnerable beneficiaries are not interrupted,” Administrator Verma said in a statement. “CMS is in constant communication with officials in Texas and Louisiana to be sure we are doing all we can to support those in the path of this historic and devastating storm.”

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