Today my thoughts go out to the people of Texas, especially the first responders and caregivers and all of those being impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday night as the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade, and because it has been moving slowly and is expected to linger for several days, Texas has been experiencing catastrophic flooding.
When catastrophe strikes, America’s hospitals are provided administrative relief from medical review and some benefit integrity responsibilities (absent any determination of fraud or abuse) by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). This is done automatically, so to speak, without the affected hospitals having to request it. The president declared a state of emergency for Texas on Aug. 25 and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Thomas Price declared a public health emergency for Texas the next day, allowing CMS waivers to be put in place based on Section 1135 of the Social Security Act.
Some of these waivers include exemption from noncompliance with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) for transferring an individual to another hospital when that individual has not been stabilized, if the circumstances of the catastrophe warrant the need for the transfer. Also waived are limitations on payments for healthcare items and services furnished to individuals enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan when care is provided by healthcare professionals or facilities not included in the plan’s network.
Chapter 3 of the Medicare Program Integrity Manual, Section 3.8, Administrative Relief from Medical Review During a Disaster, outlines the administrative flexibility available to Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) and Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs) during this time. A disaster is defined by CMS as a catastrophe that causes enough damage to destroy medical records, interrupt normal mail service, or otherwise significantly limit a provider’s daily operations. CMS defines different types of administrative relief from audits based on whether the provider was directly affected by the disaster, meaning actual medical records were destroyed, or whether the provider was indirectly affected by the disaster, meaning mail service was interrupted. If you are a provider who has suffered such an event, be sure to understand what relief is available from CMS and ensure that future audits and denials take into account the period of time when the catastrophe occurred.
Mother Nature will always be a force with which to be reckoned. It’s my sincere hope that the caregivers in Texas will be provided all of the support, resources, and relief they require to manage the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and give care and comfort to those in need.