Health Reform WK-EDGE CMS bolsters access to care in wake of Hurricane Michael
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

CMS bolsters access to care in wake of Hurricane Michael

By Patricia K. Ruiz, J.D.

Following the declaration by HHS Secretary Alex Azar of a public health emergency in Florida as a result of Hurricane Michael, CMS took action to provide immediate relief to those affected by the hurricane. The reliefincludes temporarily waiving or modifying certain Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements, creating special enrollment opportunities to allow individuals to obtain health care, and taking steps to ensure patients requiring dialysis can access critical services.

Administrative actions in response to Hurricane Michael. In response to the public health emergency spurred by Hurricane Michael, CMS is taking the following administrative actions:

  • waivers for hospitals, health care facilities, and clinicians granting other provider-specific requests to provide continued access to care for beneficiaries;
  • special enrollment opportunities for individuals impacted by the hurricane, allowing them to gain access to coverage on the exchange or change their Medicare health and prescription drug plans immediately;
  • development of a disaster preparedness toolkit for state Medicaid agencies listing Medicaid and CHIP flexibilities and authorities available to states in the event of a disaster;
  • assistance for patients requiring dialysis in obtaining critical life-saving services;
  • suspension of certain requirements necessary for Medicare beneficiaries to ensure continued access to needed medical equipment and supplies;
  • suspension of enforcement activities for health care facilities in affected areas of Florida (other than those posing an immediate threat to patient health and safety; and
  • maintenance of access to covered benefits for Medicare Parts C and D, including waiving requirements for gatekeeper referrals where applicable.

Emergency preparedness. Extreme weather events lead to surges in the demand for health care while threatening the availability and continuity of care; in response the government has taken steps to improve emergency preparedness for providers and suppliers participating in Medicare and Medicaid (see Climate Change: how health facilities can adapt and be resilient, March 26, 2018). A 2016 Final rule established national emergency preparedness requirements for 17 Medicare- and Medicaid-participating provider and supplier types to plan for both natural and man-made disasters (see Emergency preparedness in the wake of historic hurricanes, October 3, 2017). The rule requires providers and suppliers to develop an emergency preparedness plan—including a communication plan, policies, and procedures—that is reviewed and updated at least annually.

Previously, CMS issued a waiver of Soc. Sec. Act. § 1135 for Texas counties and Louisiana parishes affected by Hurricane Harvey (see They’ve suffered enough; Hurricane Harvey facilities get reporting relief, September 6, 2017). Section 1135 authorizes the HHS Secretary to temporarily waive or modify when the president declares a disaster or emergency and the Secretary declares a public health emergency.

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