The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced efforts underway to support Louisiana in response to Tropical Storm Barry. On July 12, 2019, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency (PHE) in the state. CMS is working to ensure hospitals and other facilities can continue operations and provide access to care despite the effects of Tropical Storm Barry. CMS will be waiving certain Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements; creating special enrollment opportunities for individuals to access healthcare quickly; and taking steps to ensure dialysis patients obtain critical life-saving services.
“At the direction of President Trump, CMS is doing everything within its authority to provide assistance and relief to those affected by Tropical Storm Barry in the state of Louisiana,” said Administrator Seema Verma. “CMS has been in contact with the State and is coordinating with federal and local officials to make sure that our beneficiaries have access to the healthcare they need for as long as they need.”
When a natural disasters (or other emergencies) occur, CMS can take a number of actions to assist the areas impacted. The administrative actions CMS may be taking in response to the PHE declared in Louisiana are detailed below:
- Waivers and Flexibilities for Hospitals and other Healthcare Facilities: When a public health emergency is declared and a Social Security Act 1135 determination is made, CMS has the authority to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP requirements. Accordingly, CMS will be temporarily waiving or modifying certain Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements to provide continued access to care for beneficiaries. CMS will also issue a number of blanket waivers, listed on the website below, and the other provider requests for specific types of hospitals and other facilities in Louisiana. For more information on the waivers CMS has granted, visit: www.cms.gov/emergency.
- Special Enrollment Opportunities for Tropical Storm Victims: CMS will make available special enrollment periods for certain Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in a Medicare health and prescription drug plan and individuals seeking health plans offered through the Federal Health Insurance Exchange. This gives people impacted by the tropical storm 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.
- 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) Networks 13 (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma), 14 (Texas), 7 (Florida), and 8 (Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee), to dialyze patients ahead of the storm and 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. They are also assisting patients who have evacuated ahead of the storm to receive dialysis services in the location to which they are evacuating. 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 (NW) hotline number, and contact information of those with whom they may stay or for out-of-state contacts in a water proof bag. They have also been instructed to have on hand supplies to follow a three-day emergency diet. The ESRD NW toll-free hotline numbers are:
- NW 7: 800.826.3773
- NW 8: 877.936.9620
- NW 13: 800.472.8664
- NW 14: 877.886.4435
Additional information is available on the KCER website www.kcercoalition.com.
- Medical equipment and supplies replacements: CMS will be temporarily suspending certain requirements necessary for Medicare beneficiaries who have lost, or experienced damage to, their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies as a result of the tropical storm. 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.
- Suspension of Enforcement Activities: CMS will suspend current survey and enforcement activities for healthcare facilities in Louisiana, but will continue to investigate allegations of immediate threat to patient health and safety.
- 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.
- Special Enrollment Opportunities for Tropical Storm Victims: For more information on these special enrollment periods, visit:
- 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/state-resource-center/disaster-response-toolkit/index.html.
- Last year, CMS hosted two webinars regarding Emergency Preparedness (EP) requirements and provider expectations, addressing issues related to emergency power supply; the 1135 waiver process, best practices and lessons learned from past disasters, helpful resources and more.
- 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 EP rules. The tools are available at on these two webpages:
https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertEmergPrep/Emergency-Prep-Rule.html and https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertEmergPrep/Templates-Checklists.html.
CMS will continue to work with all geographic areas impacted by Tropical Storm Barry. We encourage beneficiaries and providers of healthcare services that have been impacted to seek help by visiting CMS’ emergency webpage (www.cms.gov/emergency).
To read previous updates regarding HHS activities related to its emergency response and recovery, visit https://www.phe.gov/emergency/events/Barry/Pages/default.aspx.