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CMS strengthens federal support to California residents affected by wildfires

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 steps and is monitoring conditions in support of California residents displaced and recovering from the wildfires destroying portions of the state. On Nov. 13, 2018, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency (PHE) in areas of California retroactive to Nov. 8, 2018. 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.

“The lives and homes of thousands of Californians are at risk from dangerous wildfires and CMS is taking the necessary steps to provide flexibilities that help meet the medical needs of all those who are affected,” said Administrator Verma. “We are committed to helping everyone who has been impacted as they recover and rebuild their lives by ensuring access to care for themselves and their families.

The agency will take 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 will issue a blanket Skilled Nursing Facility waiver, described on the website below; and the Regional Office will provide numerous technical assistance responses to the state, California Hospital Association and providers on specific types of CMS and other HHS program flexibilities that are 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 will grant, visit
  • Special Enrollment Opportunities and Medicare Flexibilities:  CMS will be providing beneficiaries affected by the California wildfires an Special Enrollment Period (SEP) that gives them an additional opportunity to add, drop or change their Medicare health and prescription drug plan in the event they are eligible for an SEP and unable to make an election during the fall open enrollment period or another election period for which they were eligible. For more information on special enrollment periods, visit: 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 limits 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 17 (Northern California) Patient Hotline (800) 232-3773 or 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).

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 (


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