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Declaration of PHEs and Flexibilities Following Hurricane Ida

Declaration of PHEs and Flexibilities Following Hurricane Ida

CMS is taking steps to ensure those impacted by Ida don’t have a lapse in health coverage or lack access to critical care.

A day after Hurricane Ida blasted ashore, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra declared Public Health Emergencies (PHEs) for Louisiana and Mississippi. Days later, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a number of flexibilities and made available resources to ensure hospitals and other healthcare facilities can continue to operate following the devastation brought about by the hurricane. This is in addition to waivers already in place as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 PHE.

Here’s a synopsis of key measures and resources for those affected and actions CMS is taking in response to the Hurricane Ida PHEs.

Disaster Response and Relief Efforts

Inventory and Toolkit

There are resources available to state Medicaid and CHIP agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi to support them in their time of need. As part of its disaster preparation efforts, CMS has developed an inventory of flexibilities and authorities available to states during times of crisis to ensure continuity of coverage for people on Medicaid and CHIP.

In addition, the agency has put together a disaster preparedness toolkit that state Medicaid and CHIP agencies can access to find strategies they may temporarily utilize during a PHE. Suggested strategies include streamlining provider enrollment requirements, delaying renewal processing for individuals in affected areas, and suspending fee-for-service and managed care prior authorization requirements.

Medical Equipment and Supplies Replacement

For beneficiaries who have lost or had their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, or supplies damaged in the hurricane, CMS is temporarily waiving a number of requirements to allow them to receive replacements of these items.

Uninterrupted Dialysis Care

Bottom line, there should be no disruption in the provision of dialysis services. CMS activated the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) program to monitor dialysis access and provide technical assistance to ensure continued access, as needed.

The agency is also working with the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Networks in Louisiana and Mississippi to assess the working status and needs of dialysis facilities in the aftermath of the hurricane. They are also providing assistance to those who evacuated ahead of the storm so they can receive dialysis services in the location to which they evacuated.

Enforcement Activities Suspended

To ease the burden on healthcare facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi, CMS has temporarily suspended its ongoing survey and enforcement activities in the two states. Although, the agency will continue to investigate any allegations that are of an immediate threat to patient health and safety.

Ensuring Access to Care

For those who live in affected areas enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D, steps are being taken to ensure continued access to covered benefits. This includes allowing benefits to be furnished at non-contracted facilities and waiving any requirements for gatekeeping referrals to ensure beneficiaries can get the care they need.

The Fine Print

In declaring the PHEs and authorizing waivers and modifications for beneficiaries, Secretary Becerra acted within his authority under Section 1135 Social Security Act and the Public Health Service Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to Aug. 26, 2021, for the state of Louisiana and retroactive to Aug. 28, 2021, for the state of Mississippi.

During a PHE, the HHS Secretary may waive sanctions and penalties against a covered hospital in the emergency area that does not comply with certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule and for the emergency period identified in the PHE declaration; to hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and for up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol. The HHS Office for Civil Rights offers more information on HIPAA during emergency response.

CMS has a variety of resources available for providers and suppliers at www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertEmergPrep/Emergency-Prep-Rule.

Healthcare providers and patients who have been impacted and are seeking help should visit CMS’ emergency webpage at www.cms.gov/emergency.

AAPC Chapter Association (AAPCCA) has a Hardship/Disaster Relief Fund through which AAPC members affected by Hurricane Ida can access financial help. This includes assistance with maintaining annual membership dues and/or certification. For more information, go to www.aapc.com/memberarea/chapters/scholarship-application.aspx.

Stacy Chaplain
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Stacy Chaplain, MD, CPC, is a development editor at AAPC. She has worked in medicine for more than 20 years, with an emphasis on education, writing, and editing since 2015. Chaplain received her Bachelor of Arts in biology from the University of Texas at Austin and her doctorate in medicine from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. She is a member of the Beaverton, Ore., local chapter.

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