CMS strengthens federal support to California residents affected by wildfires
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma today announced that the agency has taken immediate steps and is monitoring conditions in support of California residents displaced and recovering from the wildfires ravaging southern portions of the state. On Dec.11, 2017, Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Eric D. Hargan declared a public health emergency (PHE) in the state of California retroactive to Dec. 4, 2017. The PHE allows CMS to waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) requirements if necessary to provide health services.
“While the lives and homes of southern Californians remain at risk from dangerous wildfires, CMS is taking the necessary steps to provide flexibilities that help meet the medical needs of the individuals and families affected,” said Administrator Verma. “Our work will continue as long as the people impacted work to recover, rebuild their lives, and access care for themselves and their families.”
The agency has taken the following steps to support the state of California and those residents impacted by wildfires:
- Waivers for Skilled Nursing Facilities and Assistance for Hospitals and other Healthcare Facilities: CMS issued a blanket Skilled Nursing Facility waiver, described on the website below; and the Regional Office has provided numerous technical assistance responses to the state, California Hospital Association and providers on specific types of CMS and other HHS program flexibilities that were available with and without waivers. These program flexibilities and waivers work to provide continued access to care for beneficiaries. For more information on the waivers CMS granted, visit https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/Emergency/Wildfires.html.
- Special Enrollment Opportunities and Medicare Flexibilities: CMS is providing beneficiaries affected by the California wildfires an Special Enrollment Period (SEP) that gives them an additional opportunity through March 31, 2018 to add, drop or change their Medicare health and prescription drug plan in the event they are eligible for an SEP and were unable to make an election during the fall open enrollment period or another election period for which they were eligible. For more information on these special enrollment periods, visit: https://www.cms.gov/About-CMS/Agency-Information/Emergency/Downloads/Extension-SE-Period-PR-VI-CA-Wildfire.pdf. When a public health emergency is in effect, Medicare Advantage Organizations in affected areas are required to waive prior authorization and other gatekeeper requirements and to allow care to be provided by non-contracted providers and facilities. In addition, Part D plan sponsors are expected to lift certain limit for drug benefits.
- Dialysis Care: Dialysis patients who are unable to receive dialysis services at their usual facility and who need assistance to locate a facility where they can be dialyzed, should call the NW 18 (Southern California) Patient Hotline (800) 637-4767 for assistance. The following large dialysis organization hotline numbers are also available for patients: DaVita Emergency Dialysis Services: (800) 400-8331, Fresenius Kidney Care Emergency Hotline: (800) 626-1297, Dialysis Clinic Inc. (DCI) Emergency Command Center: (866) 424-1990, and U.S. Renal Care Emergency Hotline: (866) 671-USRC (8772).
- Healthcare Provider Hotline: CMS established a toll-free hotline servicing Medicare’s Part B providers and suppliers in California. The hotline is intended to assist non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and non-physician practitioners helping with recovery efforts enroll in federal health programs and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges. CMS is temporarily waiving the application fee, finger print-based criminal background checks, site visits, and in-state licensure requirements usually required for providers to access Medicare billing privileges. The toll-free hotline telephone number is (855) 259-2396.
We encourage people with federal benefits and providers and suppliers of healthcare equipment and services that have been impacted by the California wildfires, to seek help by visiting CMS’ emergency webpage (www.cms.gov/emergency).
To read updates regarding HHS activities related to the California wildfires, visit https://www.phe.gov/emergency/events/ca-wildfires2017/Pages/default.aspx.