MLN Connects Special Edition - Friday, August 28, 2020

CMS Offers Comprehensive Support for Louisiana and Texas with Hurricane Laura

On August 27, CMS announced efforts underway to support Louisiana and Texas in response to Hurricane Laura. On August 26, 2020, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared public health emergencies (PHEs) in these states, retroactive to August 22, 2020 for the state of Louisiana and to August 23, 2020 for the state of Texas. CMS is working to ensure hospitals and other facilities can continue operations and provide access to care despite the effects of Hurricane Laura.

CMS provided numerous waivers to health care providers during the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic to meet the needs of beneficiaries and providers. The waivers already in place will be available to health care providers to use during the duration of the COVID-19 PHE determination timeframe and for the Hurricane Laura PHE. CMS may waive certain additional Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements, create special enrollment opportunities for individuals to access healthcare quickly, and take steps to ensure dialysis patients obtain critical life-saving services.

“Our thoughts are with everyone who is in the path of this powerful and dangerous hurricane and CMS is doing everything within its authority to provide assistance and relief to all who are affected,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “We will partner and coordinate with state, federal, and local officials to make sure that in the midst of all of the uncertainty a natural disaster can bring, our beneficiaries will not have to worry about access to healthcare and other crucial life-saving and sustaining services they may need.”

Below are key administrative actions CMS will be taking in response to the PHEs declared in Louisiana and Texas:

Waivers and Flexibilities for Hospitals and Other Healthcare Facilities: CMS has already waived many Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements for facilities. The CMS Dallas Survey & Enforcement Division, under the Survey Operations Group, will grant other provider-specific requests for specific types of hospitals and other facilities in Louisiana and Texas. These waivers, once issued, will help provide continued access to care for beneficiaries. For more information on the waivers CMS has granted, visit www.cms.gov/emergency.

Special Enrollment Opportunities for Hurricane Victims: CMS will make available special enrollment periods for certain Medicare beneficiaries and certain individuals seeking health plans offered through the Federal Health Insurance Exchange. This gives people impacted by the hurricane the opportunity to change their Medicare health and prescription drug plans and gain access to health coverage on the Exchange if eligible for the special enrollment period. For more information, please visit:

https://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Resources/Regulations-and-Guidance/Downloads/8-9-natural-disaster-SEP.pdf

https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/Emergency/EPRO/Past-Emergencies/Hurricanes-and-tropical-storms.html

Disaster Preparedness Toolkit for State Medicaid Agencies: CMS developed an inventory of Medicaid and CHIP flexibilities and authorities available to states in the event of a disaster. For more information and to access the toolkit, visit: https://www.medicaid.gov/resources-for-states/disaster-response-toolkit/index.html.

Dialysis Care: CMS is helping patients obtain access to critical life-saving services. The Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) program has been activated and is working with the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Network, Network 13 – Louisiana, and Network 14 - Texas, to assess the status of dialysis facilities in the potentially impacted areas related to generators, alternate water supplies, education and materials for patients and more.

The KCER is also assisting patients who evacuated ahead of the storm to receive dialysis services in the location to which they evacuated. Patients have been educated to have an emergency supply kit on hand including important personal, medical, and insurance information; contact information for their facility, the ESRD Network hotline number, and contact information of those with whom they may stay or for out-of-state contacts in a waterproof bag. They have also been instructed to have supplies on hand to follow a three-day emergency diet. The ESRD Network 8 – Mississippi hotline is 1-800-638-8299, Network 13 – Louisiana hotline is 800-472-7139, the ESRD Network 14 - Texas hotline is 877-886-4435, and the KCER hotline is 866-901-3773. Additional information is available on the KCER website https://www.kcercoalition.com/.

During the 2017 and 2018 hurricane seasons, CMS approved special purpose renal dialysis facilities in several states to furnish dialysis on a short-term basis at designated locations to serve ESRD patients under emergency circumstances in which there were limited dialysis resources or access-to-care problems due to the emergency circumstances.

Medical equipment and supplies replacements: Under the COVD-19 waivers, CMS suspended certain requirements necessary for Medicare beneficiaries who have lost or realized damage to their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies as a result of the PHE. This will help to make sure that beneficiaries can continue to access the needed medical equipment and supplies they rely on each day. Medicare beneficiaries can contact 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for assistance.

Ensuring Access to Care in Medicare Advantage and Part D: During a public health emergency, Medicare Advantage Organizations and Part D Plan sponsors must take steps to maintain access to covered benefits for beneficiaries in affected areas. These steps include allowing Part A/B and supplemental Part C plan benefits to be furnished at specified non-contracted facilities and waiving, in full, requirements for gatekeeper referrals where applicable.

Emergency Preparedness Requirements: Providers and suppliers are expected to have emergency preparedness programs based on an all-hazards approach. To assist in the understanding of the emergency preparedness requirements, CMS Central Office and the Regional Offices hosted two webinars in 2018 regarding Emergency Preparedness requirements and provider expectations. One was an all provider training on June 19, 2018 with more than 3,000 provider participants and the other an all-surveyor training on August 8, 2018. Both presentations covered the emergency preparedness final rule which included emergency power supply; 1135 waiver process; best practices and lessons learned from past disasters; and helpful resources and more. Both webinars are available at https://qsep.cms.gov/welcome.aspx.

CMS also compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and useful national emergency preparedness resources to assist state Survey Agencies (SAs), their state, tribal, regional, local emergency management partners and health care providers to develop effective and robust emergency plans and tool kits to assure compliance with the emergency preparedness rules.  The tools can be located at:

https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertEmergPrep/Emergency-Prep-Rule.html

https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertEmergPrep/Templates-Checklists.html

CMS Regional Offices have provided specific emergency preparedness information to Medicare providers and suppliers through meetings, dialogue, and presentations. The regional offices also provide regular technical assistance in emergency preparedness to state agencies and staff, who, since November 2017, have been regularly surveying providers and suppliers for compliance with emergency preparedness regulations.

Additional information on the emergency preparedness requirements can be found here:

https://www.cms.gov/Regulations-and-Guidance/Guidance/Manuals/downloads/som107ap_z_emergprep.pdf

CMS will continue to work with all geographic areas impacted by Hurricane Laura. We encourage beneficiaries and providers of healthcare services that have been impacted to seek help by visiting CMS’ emergency webpage (www.cms.gov/emergency).

For more information about the HHS PHE, please visit:

https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/08/26/hhs-secretary-azar-declares-public-health-emergencies-in-louisiana-and-texas-due-to-hurricane-laura.html.