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Coronavirus Update – New FAQs and Toolkits for Telehealth, Telemedicine & Medicare Provider Enrollment

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(March 27, 2020): Liles Parker published an article covering CMS’ blanket waiver of certain telehealth requirements on March 16, 2020, with an updated version posted March 17, 2020.[1] This article covers developments since March 17, 2020 related to CMS telehealth requirements and provider enrollment activities in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, as well as the Drug Enforcement Administration’s recent waiver permitting practitioners to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine.

We recommend providers carefully review the CMS and DEA guidance specific for each service or activity for complete details or contact a Liles Parker attorney for more information.

I.   Medicare Telehealth Waiver:

On March 17, 2020, CMS announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility.[2]Since then, the agency has published toolkits for general and ESRD providers that answer a number of key questions.[3]

The initial announcement regarding the blanket waiver published March 17, 2020 included the following key takeaways:

  • Effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to patients in all areas of the country in all settings.
  • During this period, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to beneficiaries in any healthcare facility and in their home.
  • The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
  • To the extent the 1135 waiver requires an established relationship, HHS will not conduct audits to ensure that such a prior relationship existed for claims submitted during this public health emergency.
  • HHS’ Office of Civil Rights will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.[4]

Note that the waiver does not restrict coverage to patients with coronavirus or symptoms of coronavirus. Any service that a provider can safely deliver via telehealth and is on CMS’ list of approved telehealth services[5] will be permitted under the new waiver. This waiver of Medicare program and HIPAA requirements will last for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

II.   Medicare Telehealth FAQs

CMS updated its COVID-19 FAQs after publishing the March 17, 2020 telehealth waiver notice.[6] The FAQs answer several key questions we have received from clients in the last several days, including the following:

  • Question: For purposes of the statutory requirement that a patient have a face-to-face encounter with a physician or an allowed non-physician practitioner in order to qualify for Medicare home health care, can this encounter occur via telehealth during a pandemic outbreak of an infectious disease?

Answer: The face-to-face encounter, as described at 1814(a)(2)(C) and 1835(a)(2)(A) of the Social Security Act, can be performed via telehealth in accordance with the requirements under 1834(m)(4)(C) of the Social Security Act. Under the expansion of telehealth under the 1135 waiver, beneficiaries are able to use telehealth technologies with their doctors and practitioners from home (or other originating site) for the face-to-face encounter to qualify for Medicare home health care.

  • Question: Can the distant site practitioner furnish Medicare telehealth services from their home? Or do they have to be in a medical facility?

Answer: There are no payment restrictions on distant site practitioners furnishing Medicare telehealth services from their home. Individual providers may use their MAC hotline number to verbally update their practice location over the phone and would be effective immediately so practitioners could continue providing care without a disruption.

Liles Parker recommends that if a distant site practitioner intends to provide telehealth services and does not have their home listed on the enrollment file as a practice location, he or she should call their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to add it. Please also see the additional information below on CMS provider enrollment waivers.

We note that CMS’ telehealth waiver does not relax or remove incident to supervision requirements. We recently reviewed whether a distant site practitioner (for example, a clinical psychologist), and someone under their supervision who is not enrolled in the Medicare program (for example, a licensed counselor), could collaborate via telemedicine to care for a Medicare patient. The scenario would involve the licensed counselor providing individual therapy services via telemedicine technology. The patient would be an established patient with a plan of care established by the clinical psychologist. The psychologist and licensed counselor would not be in the same location. As of the publication of this update, CMS has not relaxed or waived the supervision requirements for incident to services; therefore, this telehealth service would not be covered unless the supervising psychologist and licensed counselor are in the same location. We will continue to monitor CMS’ FAQs and other guidance for any changes.

III.   State Medical Board Telehealth and Other Waivers:

We recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements for telemedicine if you are unfamiliar with what is permitted in your state and the State in which you wish to provide telehealth services. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) is maintaining a list of state actions that include waivers of licensure requirements, license renewal requirements, and other state medical board actions in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.[7] Many of these waivers address physicians from out-of-state rendering telehealth and/or telemedicine services in states where they are not licensed. Keep in mind that a physician must meet the licensing requirements both in the state where he or she is licensed and in the state where the patient being seen via telemedicine is located.

Liles Parker has advised numerous clients with regard to telemedicine services and is ready to assist you in understanding both Medicare and relevant state law during this unprecedented public health emergency.

IV.   DEA Waiver to Regarding Controlled Substance Prescribing via Telemedicine

DEA is doing its part to support enhanced telemedicine services during the COVID-19 public health emergency as well. In a recently posted FAQ,[8] DEA informed the healthcare community that while a prescription for a controlled substance issued by means of the Internet (including telemedicine) must generally be predicated on an in-person medical evaluation (21 U.S.C. 829(e)), the Controlled Substances Act contains certain exceptions to this requirement. One such exception occurs when the Secretary of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency, as Secretary Azar did on January 31, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, the Secretary of HHS, with the concurrence of the Acting DEA Administrator, designated that the telemedicine allowance under section 802(54)(D) applies to all schedule II-V controlled substances in all areas of the United States. Accordingly, as of March 16, 2020, and continuing for as long as the Secretary’s designation of a public health emergency remains in effect, DEA-registered practitioners in all areas of the United States may issue prescriptions for all schedule II-V controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation, provided all of the following conditions are met:

  • The prescription is issued for a legitimate medical purpose by a practitioner acting in the usual course of his/her professional practice;
  • The telemedicine communication is conducted using an audio-visual, real-time, two-way interactive communication system; and
  • The practitioner is acting in accordance with applicable Federal and State laws.

Provided the practitioner satisfies the above requirements, the practitioner may issue the prescription using any of the methods of prescribing currently permitted, including electronically (for schedules II-V) or by calling in an emergency schedule II prescription to the pharmacy, or by calling in a schedule III-V prescription to the pharmacy.

DEA clarified that the term “practitioner” includes a physician, dentist, veterinarian, or other person licensed, registered, or otherwise permitted, by the United States or the jurisdiction in which he or she practices, to prescribe controlled substances in the course of his/her professional practice.

V.   Additional Details on Medicare Provider Enrollment Waivers:

CMS issued a blanket waiver related to provider enrollment requirements[9] on March 13, 2020. That waiver included the following, as further explained the new FAQs published by CMS as of March 22, 2020:[10]

  • For Physicians and Non-Physician Practitioners:
    • Establishes toll-free hotlines for non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and nonphysician practitioners to enroll and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges
    • Waives the following screening requirements:
      • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
      • Criminal background checks associated with fingerprint-based criminal background checks – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
      • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
      • Postpones all revalidation actions 
  • For All other providers and suppliers (including DMEPOS):
    • Expedites any pending or new applications from providers
      • All clean web applications will be processed within 7 business days and all clean paper applications in 14 business days.
    • Waives the following screening requirements for all applications received after March 1, 2020:
      • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
      • Criminal background checks associated with fingerprint-based criminal background checks – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
      • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
      • Postpones all revalidation actions;

CMS’ new FAQs include a list of the toll-free hotline numbers for each Medicare Administrative Contractor where physicians and non-physician practitioners[11] can call to receive immediate, temporary billing privileges in a jurisdiction where they are not already enrolled, or to add new practice locations to an existing enrollment. Callers should be prepared to provide the Legal Name of the enrolling practitioner, National Provider Identifier (NPI), Social Security Number, a valid in-state or out-of-state license, address information and contact information (telephone number). If basic screening criteria are met, the MAC will advise the physician or non-physician practitioner during the call that provisional billing privileges have been granted and will follow-up with a letter. If you need a retroactive effective date, the MACs may backdate your provisional enrollment as far as March 1, 2020. Individuals who receive these provisional privileges will be asked to file initial enrollment applications after the public health emergency declaration is lifted.

Note that for physicians enrolling in a MAC jurisdiction where they are not currently licensed, CMS is permitting this under its waiver authority so long as the following conditions are met:

  1. The physician or non-physician practitioner must be enrolled as such in the Medicare program.
  2. The physician or non-physician practitioner must possess a valid license to practice in the State which relates to his or her Medicare enrollment.
  3. The physician or non-physician practitioner is furnishing services – whether in person or via telehealth – in a State in which the emergency is occurring in order to contribute to relief efforts in his or her professional capacity.
  4. The physician or non-physician practitioner is not affirmatively excluded from practice in the State or any other State that is part of the 1135 emergency area.

CMS’ provider enrollment waiver does not supersede State or local licensing requirements. As we mentioned above, many States are waiving out-of-state licensing requirements or streamlining their process to get a temporary license. As stated above, we recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements both in the state where the physician or non-physician practitioner is licensed and in the State where he or she wishes to render services either in-person, or via telehealth or telemedicine.[12]

Liles Parker provides assistance to all types of providers seeking to enroll in the Medicare program.

V.   Conclusion:

Liles Parker attorneys and staff are closely monitoring HHS, CMS and CDC guidance and will update as new information becomes available. Please contact us with questions or for assistance with your response to this unprecedented National Emergency.

covid-19 public health emergencyJennifer Papapanagiotou is a Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  She has decades of experience representing health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with a wide range of regulatory actions.  Questions regarding the impact of recent coronavirus guidance on your organization?  Call Jennifer for a free consultation.  She can be reached at:  1 (800) 465-1906.

[1] See the March 16, 2020 article (updated March 17, 2020) here.

[2] Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here.

[3] The CMS General Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit can be found here. The ESRD Provider Telehealth and Telemedicine Tool Kit can be found here.

[4] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[5] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[6] The updated FAQs from CMS last updated on March 23, 2020 can be accessed here.

[7] The FSMB list of state licensing board actions related to the COVID-19 public health emergency can be found here.

[8] DEA’s FAQ can be found here.

[9] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Provider enrollment waivers of certain requirements are outlined in the guidance.

[10] The CMS 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Medicare Provider Enrollment Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) can be accessed here.

[11] Other provider types will need to file an enrollment application via PECOS or a paper application with the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor; however, the MACs will be expediting processing of all applications as indicated in the FAQs.

[12] The Federation of State Medical Boards list of state licensing board actions related to the COVID-19 public health emergency can be found here.

Coronavirus Update – HHS & CMS Guidance, Directives and Waivers with Respect to Telemedicine, Provider Enrollment Regulations, Claim Appeals, the Suspension of Non-Emergency Survey Inspections, Nursing Homes, Home Health Agencies, Dialysis Facilities and DME Suppliers.

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UPDATED (March 17, 2020): CMS just announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. The article below has been updated to address these key takeaways.

(March 16, 2020): On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a National Emergency[1] related to the current Coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak. The declaration gives Secretary Alex Azar of the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) the power to waive certain Federal requirements in Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP in order to address the outbreak. The President’s declaration was preceded by Secretary Azar’s determination on January 31, 2020[2] that a public health emergency exists.  Since these pronouncements, Liles Parker attorneys have received numerous calls asking for clarification on these waivers and other guidance from HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Our clients have also asked that we provide a listing of useful links and other available resources.

As a result of President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, HHS now has broad authority to make temporary adjustments including:

  1. Applying flexibilities that are already available under normal business rules;
  2. Waiver or modification of policy or procedural norms by the Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) under his or her authority; and
  3. Waiver or modification of certain Medicare requirements pursuant to waiver authority under § 1135 of the Social Security Act.

As of March 16, 2020, CMS has issued the following guidance, directives and waivers, specifically with regard to the coronavirus outbreak. We recommend providers carefully review the HHS, CMS and/or CDC guidance specific to each service, discipline or facility type for complete details.

I.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Telehealth / Telemedicine Regulations:

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020[3] signed by President Trump on March 6, 2020 included a specific provision addressing Medicare coverage and telehealth services. HB 6074 grants certain powers to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to waive some of the telehealth coverage requirements under the Medicare program. Unfortunately, the new law requires Secretary Azar to issue a waiver addressing any temporary changes to current Medicare telehealth coverage requirements. As of the publication of this article, a waiver has not been released, although CMS Administrator Seema Verma indicated during her remarks on March 13, 2020,[4] that more information would be forthcoming very soon. H.B. 6074 permits Secretary Azar to relax telehealth coverage requirements for all services CMS has approved to be provided via telemedicine as follows:

  • To relax the originating site requirements to include patient homes;
  • To waive the rural HPSA/non-MSA county geographic location requirement so that patients in any geographic location can receive covered telemedicine services; and,
  • To permit phone only telehealth services so long as the phone used has audio and video capabilities (i.e., most smartphones).

The law imposes certain restrictions, even under a waiver from Secretary Azar. Importantly, the relaxed coverage requirements would only extend to services provided by a physician or practitioner (or another physician or practitioner in that provider’s group practice) to an established patient, meaning an individual the provider has seen during the 3-year period before a telehealth service is furnished. We will update this article when a specific waiver is issued.

UPDATE (3/17/2020): CMS just announced a waiver of certain telehealth coverage requirements so that Medicare beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility. Here are the key takeaways from this important announcement:

  • Effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to patients in broader circumstances.
  • These visits are considered the same as in-person visits and are paid at the same rate as regular, in-person visits.
  • Starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for professional services furnished to beneficiaries in all areas of the country in all settings.
  • While they must generally travel to or be located in certain types of originating sites such as a physician’s office, skilled nursing facility or hospital for the visit, effective for services starting March 6, 2020 and for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for Medicare telehealth services furnished to beneficiaries in any healthcare facility and in their home.
  • The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would generally apply to these services. However, the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) is providing flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.
  • To the extent the 1135 waiver requires an established relationship, HHS will not conduct audits to ensure that such a prior relationship existed for claims submitted during this public health emergency.
  • HHS’ Office of Civil Rights will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers that serve patients in good faith through everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.[18]

Note that the waiver does not restrict coverage to patients with coronavirus or symptoms of coronavirus. Any service that a provider can safely deliver via telemedicine and is on CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services[19] will be permitted under the new waiver. This waiver of Medicare program and HIPAA requirements will last for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. We do recommend that you check with your State licensing board to verify state requirements for telemedicine if you are unfamiliar with what is permitted in your state. Liles Parker has advised numerous clients with regard to telemedicine services.

In the meantime, CMS has reminded providers of the following options to provide covered non-face to face services to Medicare patients:

  • Medicare pays for “virtual check-ins” for patients to connect with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office. These brief, virtual check-in services are for patients with an established relationship with a physician or certain practitioners where the communication is not related to a medical visit within the previous 7 days and does not lead to a medical visit within the next 24 hours (or soonest appointment available). The patient must verbally consent to using virtual check-ins and the consent must be documented in the medical record prior to the patient using the service. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services. Doctors and certain practitioners may bill for these virtual check-in services furnished through several communication technology modalities, such as telephone (HCPCS code G2012) or captured video or image (HCPCS code G2010).
  • Medicare also pays for patients to communicate with their doctors without going to the doctor’s office using online patient portals. The individual communications, like the virtual check ins, must be initiated by the patient; however, practitioners may educate beneficiaries on the availability of this kind of service prior to patient initiation. The communications can occur over a 7-day period. The services may be billed using CPT codes 99421-99423 and HCPCS codes G2061-G206, as applicable. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services.
  • In addition, Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas may use telehealth technology to have full visits with their physicians. The patient must be present at an approved telehealth originating site and must receive services using a real-time audio and video communication system at the site to communicate with a remotely located doctor or certain other types of practitioners. Medicare pays for many medical visits through this telehealth benefit. The Medicare coinsurance and deductible would apply to these services. For additional information on this benefit, please see CMS’s Telehealth resource page [5] for additional details and requirements.
  • Medicare Advantage Plans were given the authority to expand their telehealth coverage through enhanced benefit packages last year, but coverage still varies from plan to plan. CMS also issued a waiver on March 10, 2020 permitting (but not requiring) Medicare Advantage Plans to expand access to certain telehealth services. We recommend checking with the plans with which you contract for specific details or contact Liles Parker for assistance.
  • Many State Medicaid programs already cover telehealth/telemedicine services provided to patients in their homes. Liles Parker can assist in determining what your State Medicaid program covers.

II.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Medicare Provider Enrollment Regulations:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver related to provider enrollment requirements[6] to do the following:

  • Establish a toll-free hotline for non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and nonphysician; practitioners to enroll and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges;
  • Waive the following screening requirements:
    • Application Fee – 42 C.F.R § 424.514
    • Criminal background checks associated with FCBC – 42 C.F.R § 424.518
    • Site visits – 42 C.F.R § 424.517
  • Postpone all revalidation actions;
  • Allow licensed providers to render services outside of their state of enrollment; and,
  • Expedite any pending or new applications from providers.

Liles Parker provides assistance to all types of providers seeking to enroll in the Medicare program.

III.   Impact of the Coronavirus on Medicare Claim Appeals:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver applicable to fee-for-service Medicare, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D claim appeals.[7]  The blanket waiver provides for the following relief:

  • Extensions to file an appeal
  • Waiving timeliness for requests for additional information to adjudicate the appeal;
  • Processing the appeal even with incomplete Appointment of Representation forms but communicating only to the beneficiary;
  • Processing requests for appeal that don’t meet the required elements using information that is available.
  • Utilizing all flexibilities available in the appeal process as if good cause requirements are satisfied.

IV.   Suspension of Non-Emergency Survey Inspections Due to Coronavirus:

On March 4, 2020, CMS issued a Memorandum[8] advising that it is temporarily suspending non-emergency survey inspections, allowing providers to focus on the most current serious health and safety threats, like infectious diseases and abuse. Specifically, survey activity is limited to the following (in Priority Order):

  • All immediate jeopardy complaints (cases that represents a situation in which entity noncompliance has placed the health and safety of recipients in its care at risk for serious injury, serious harm, serious impairment or death or harm) and allegations of abuse and neglect;
  • Complaints alleging infection control concerns, including facilities with potential COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses;
  • Statutorily required recertification surveys (Nursing Home, Home Health, Hospice, and ICF/IID facilities);
  • Any re-visits necessary to resolve current enforcement actions;
  • Initial certifications;
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals that have a history of infection control deficiencies at the immediate jeopardy level in the last three years;
  • Surveys of facilities/hospitals/dialysis centers that have a history of infection control deficiencies at lower levels than immediate jeopardy.

CMS is maintaining a website[9] with consolidated guidance to surveyors related to coronavirus and infection control in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, home health, and dialysis facilities.

V.   Nursing Homes:

CMS issued a revised Memorandum[10] on March 13, 2020 with specific guidance to nursing homes, including:

  • Directing nursing homes to temporarily restrict all visitors and nonessential personnel with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations, and to cancel all communal dining and group activities.
  • Screening their staff and outside healthcare providers using CDC guidelines for restricting access to health care workers.
  • Notifying their local health department if a resident is suspected of having COVID-19. Facilities that can follow the infection prevention and control practices recommended by CDC may or may not need to transfer the patient, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. If a resident must be transferred to a hospital, careful coordination with EMS and the receiving facility must be performed, including placing a facemask on the patient during transfer.
  • Accepting patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and still under Transmission-Based Precautions for COVID-19 as long as the facility can follow CDC guidance;
  • Accepting patients who are not diagnosed with COVID-19 from hospitals or other locations where a case of COVID-19 was/is present; and,
  • Obligations to maintain appropriate PPE and alcohol-based hand rub supply levels, while assuring facilities they will not be cited by surveyors so long as they can demonstrate they are having difficulty obtaining the supplies for reasons outside their control. Nursing homes are advised to contact with their local and state public health agency to notify them of any shortage, follow national guidelines for optimizing their current supply, and identify the next best option to care for their residents.

CMS also exercised its authority to waive certain coverage requirements for skilled nursing services on March 13, 2020, including the following:

  • CMS is waiving the 3-day prior hospitalization for coverage of a skilled nursing facility (SNF) stay for those people who need to be transferred as a result of the coronavirus emergency. In addition, for certain beneficiaries who recently exhausted their SNF benefits, it authorizes renewed SNF coverage without first having to start a new benefit period.
  • Second, CMS is waiving 42 CFR 483.20 to provide relief to SNFs on the timeframe requirements for Minimum Data Set assessments and transmission.

VI.   Home Health Agencies:

CMS has issued a blanket waiver[11] to provide relief to home health agencies (HHAs) on the timeframes related to OASIS Transmission. The waiver also allows Medicare Administrative Contractors to extend the auto-cancellation date of Requests for Anticipated Payment (RAPs) during emergencies. Please consult with your home health MAC for specific guidance.

Additionally, on March 10, 2020, CMS issued guidance [12] on addressing potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases and mitigating transmission including screening, treatment, and transfer to higher level care (when appropriate).

VII.   Hospitals:

On March 4, 2020, CMS issued guidance[13] regarding infection control and prevention related to COVID-19 cases.  In addition, CMS has issued blanket waivers applicable to hospitals[14] addressing a number of issues.[17] Some of the most significant include:

  • CMS is waiving the requirements that Critical Access Hospitals limit the number of beds to 25, and that the length of stay be limited to 96 hours.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to allow acute care hospitals to house acute care inpatients in excluded distinct part units, where the distinct part unit’s beds are appropriate for acute care inpatient.
  • CMS is waiving to allow acute care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient psychiatric units that, as a result of a disaster or emergency, need to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part psychiatric unit to an acute care bed and unit.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to allow acute care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient Rehabilitation units that, as a result of a disaster or emergency, need to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part rehabilitation unit to an acute care bed and unit.

VIII.   Coronavirus Related Waivers Issued by CMS to DME Suppliers:

A blanket waiver[15] has been issued by CMS as of March 13, 2020 to address lost, destroyed, irreparably damaged or otherwise unusable Durable Medical Equipment (DME).  DME Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) will have the flexibility to waive replacement requirements such that the face-to-face requirement, a new physician’s order, and new medical necessity documentation are not required. Suppliers must still include a narrative description on the claim explaining the reason why the equipment must be replaced and are reminded to maintain documentation indicating that the DMEPOS was lost, destroyed, irreparably damaged or otherwise rendered unusable or unavailable as a result of the emergency. Please check your DME MAC website for more information or contact Liles Parker for assistance.

IX.   Dialysis Facilities:

On March 10, 2020, CMS issued guidance[16] addressing potential and confirmed COVID-19 cases and mitigating transmission including screening, treatment, and transfer to higher level care (when appropriate).

X.   Conclusion:

Liles Parker attorneys and staff are closely monitoring HHS, CMS and CDC guidance and will update this article as new information becomes available. Please contact us with questions or for assistance with your response to this unprecedented National Emergency.

Jennifer Papapanagiotou is a Partner at Liles Parker, Attorneys & Clients at Law.  She has decades of experience representing health care providers and suppliers around the country in connection with a wide range of regulatory actions.  Questions regarding the impact of recent coronavirus guidance on your organization?  Call Jennifer for a free consultation.  She can be reached at:  1 (800) 465-1906.

[1] Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak, Issued on March 13, 2020.  A link to the declaration can be found here.

[2] Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists, issued by Secretary Azar on January 31, 2020.  A link to the determination can be found here.

[3] ‘‘Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020.”  H.B. 6074

[4] Emergency Declaration Press Call Remarks by CMS Administrator Seema Verma, delivered March 13, 2020.  A link to the remarks can be found here.

[1] Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here.

[2] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[3] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[5] CMS’s telehealth resource page can be found here.  

[6] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here. Provider enrollment waivers of certain requirements are outlined in the guidance.

[7] Ibid. Waivers to the administrative claims appeals process are outlined on page 3 of the document.

[8] Memorandum titled “Suspension of Survet Activities,” dated March 4, 2020.  A copy of the Memorandum can be found here.

[9] CMS guidance titled “Updates for State Surveyors and Accrediting Organizations” can be found here.  

[10]CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (REVISED),” can be found here.

[11] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Home health agency guidance is on page 3 of the Fact Sheet.

[12] CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Home Health Agencies (HHAs), was issued on March 10, 2020, and can be found here.

[13] CMS Memorandum titled Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention Concerning Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): FAQs and Considerations for Patient Triage, Placement and Hospital Discharge,” dated March 4, 2020, can be found here.  

[14] COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   Hospital guidance is on pages 1-3 of the Fact Sheet.

[15]COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Health Care Providers Fact Sheet, dated March 13, 2020, can be found here.   DME related guidance is on page 1 of the Fact Sheet.

[16] CMS issued guidance on March 10, 2020

[17]  Medicare Telemedicine Health Care Provider Fact Sheet, dated March 17, 2020, can be found here. Frequently Asked Questions expanding on the fact sheet and giving more details on implementation can be found here. 

[18] HHS’s Office of Civil Rights is maintaining a website with more information on this topic here.

[19] You can find CMS’ list of approved telemedicine services here.

[20]

Are you Ready for the Next Round of CMS Revalidation?

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CMS revalidation(March 17, 2017): The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that it will be initiating its next round of CMS revalidation requests to all Medicare enrolled providers and suppliers.  Current law and regulations require providers and suppliers to revalidate their enrollment with Medicare every five years (every three years for DME suppliers). There are a few changes being made to try and give providers a bit more flexibility this time around.

 

 I.  Highlights of the CMS Revalidation Initiative Beginning This Year:

  • CMS will maintain a master list of providers/suppliers due for revalidation along with the due date for their applications here: https://data.cms.gov/revalidation. CMS has advised that all providers/suppliers should check this list to see when their application is due. If a due date is more than six months away, the list will show “TBD” for a provider/supplier due date. DO NOT SUBMIT A REVALIDATION APPLICATION IS NO DUE DATE APPEARS. IT WILL BE RETURNED.
  • The website will also provide a list of all reassignments for those suppliers that maintain reassignments.
  • Providers and suppliers don’t have to wait for a letter from their Medicare Administrative Contractor (“MAC”) to submit a revalidation application. If you are within six month of your due date shown on the above website, you are encouraged to submit your application.
  • MACs will still send an email or letter to providers/suppliers 2-3 months prior to their due date asking them to revalidate. Emails will include the title “URGENT: Medicare Provider Enrollment Revalidation Request.” If emails are returned as undeliverable, a paper letter will be sent. All letters will be sent to at least two of a providers/suppliers reported addresses (e.g. a correspondence and special payments or primary practice location address.
  • Revalidation notices sent to individual practitioners who have reassigned their billing rights to a group or groups will include a list of all reassignments on file with CMS. Special procedures will be available for groups with more than 200 members.
  • An upcoming revalidation does not relieve providers/suppliers from submitting updates to their enrollment record in the timeframes required by relevant regulations. Submit all changes of information timely, even if a revalidation is due within the next six months.

II.  Tipe for Ensuring Your CMS Revalidation Efforts Have Been Completed:

In addition to outlining the process for the next round of revalidation, CMS has provided tips for ensuring your revalidation is complete.

  • Providers and suppliers are required to revalidate their entire Medicare enrollment record, including all practice locations where they see patients and all groups to which they reassign benefits.
  • All of a provider’s or supplier’s NPIs and PTANs must be revalidated when revalidation is requested.
  • Either PECOS or the paper CMS-855 applications may be used for revalidation.
  • If a provider or supplier is deactivated for failing to submit a revalidation application on time or failing to respond to a request for additional information on a pending application, they may reactivate their enrollment by submitting a new, full application. The provider/supplier, once the application is processed and approved, will maintain their original PTAN, but the reactivation date will be whatever date the new, full application was submitted. Retroactive billing privileges back to the date of deactivation will not be granted and the provider/supplier will have gap period where they may not receive payment for services provided to Medicare beneficiaries.
  • CMS has reminded certain providers and suppliers that a fee is due with their revalidation application. All “institutional providers” that submit an application via PECOS or a paper Medicare enrollment application using the CMS-855A, CMS-855B (except physician and non-physician practitioner organizations), or CMS-855S forms are required to pay the application fee. For Calendar Year 2017, the fee is $560. It can be paid via this website: https://pecos.cms.hhs.gov/pecos/feePaymentWelcome.do#headingLv1 Be sure to print proof of payment with your revalidation application to avoid delays in processing.

III.  Other Important Considerations:

CMS also noted that all providers and suppliers that have not billed Medicare for 12 consecutive months will have their billing privileges deactivated. To reactivate their provider number, a complete, new application must be submitted. Once approved, the provider/suppliers will retain its original PTAN.  The effective date of reactivation will not be retroactive to the date of deactivation.

We encourage all providers and suppliers to check CMS’ list of revalidations due in the upcoming six months. The list is updated every sixty days. If you choose to use PECOS to complete your revalidation, be sure to print a copy of your submission BEFORE you click the submit button. You need to retain a copy of what you submit indefinitely in order to substantiate what you input via PECOS. We have seen far too many providers and suppliers think they properly completed a revalidation application via PECOS only to be revoked later on because some data point was missing from a submission or was submitted under the incorrect enrollment file or field. Also:

  • If you are a physician who is the sole shareholder of your practice, you do NOT need to complete a CMS-855B in most instances. However, it is very important to properly identify your practice locations under both your individual and your entity’s enrollment in PECOS when you revalidate those enrollments. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that listing practice locations under just your individual enrollment will make them automatically appear under your entity (or vice versa).
  • Physicians and non-physician practitioners that reassign payments to groups must identify all groups to which they reassign on their revalidation. Failure to list a group may result in a reassignment being deactivated. You do not need to submit new CMS-855Rs with your revalidation.
  • If you check the list of revalidations that are due and you can’t locate your record after searching by name or NPI…CALL YOUR MAC. The list contains all active Medicare program providers and suppliers, including DME suppliers. If you do not appear on the list, you need to find out why.

CMS has published an article discussing the revalidation process in more detail here: https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-Network-MLN/MLNMattersArticles/downloads/SE1605.pdf  In addition, you may visit this CMS website for additional information: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/MedicareProviderSupEnroll/Revalidations.html

IV.  Recommendations:

Liles Parker PLLC attorneys have extensive experience helping providers and suppliers navigate through the Medicare enrollment and revalidation process. Please contact us if you have questions or need assistance.

CMS revalidationJennifer Papapanagiotou, Esq is a health law attorney with the firm, Liles Parker, Attorneys & Counselors at Law.  Liles Parker has offices in Washington DC, Houston TX, McAllen TX and Baton Rouge LA.  Our attorneys represent dentists, orthodontists and other health care professionals around the country in connection with Medicare provider enrollment and revocation matters.  Need assistance?  For a free consultation, please call: 1 (800) 475-1906.

Medicare Revocation Action: Steps for Avoiding and Appealing

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A Medicare Revocation Action Can Financially Ruin a Practice(September 16, 2014): Consider the following scenario. You own a durable medical equipment (DME) company that you run out of a leased location in a local office building. Your customers are a mix of privately insured and Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries. You’ve been in business for about 10 years, but money is tight and you need to reduce expenses. You decide to move your business to your home for the time being. You make all the arrangements to move, and prepare a CMS-Form 855S informing the National Supplier Clearinghouse (NSC) that you are relocating in 10 days. No one helps you fill out the form, no one reviews it for you, and no one goes with you when you take the signed CMS-Form 855S to the local post office in a manila envelope that you have hand addressed to the NSC. Because it’s only a few dollars, you pay for first-class postage for the envelope with the $5 bill you had in your pocket, hand the envelope to the postal clerk and leave.

Fast-forward six weeks…you receive an envelope from the NSC that is forwarded to you from your old business address. The letter inside informs you that Medicare revocation action has been initiated.  Your Medicare DME supplier number is being revoked because a site inspector visited your old address 5 days after you relocated and found the location empty. You frantically call the NSC and ask why you’ve received this letter. They confirm what the letter says. You ask the representative to confirm what the NSC has on file as your location, and the customer service representative reads back your old address. You ask if the NSC has any record of receiving the CMS-Form 855S you sent 10 days before you moved and the representative says it does not.  Cue full on panic…

I.  Appealing a Medicare Revocation Action:

What are your options at this point? The Medicare revocation notice letter says you have the right to seek reconsideration of the termination of your participation. Surely you can send a letter to the appeal address explaining what happened and they’ll stop the termination? Surely they’ll believe you when you say you sent the CMS-Form 855S notifying the NSC of your address change well before it was due (which was within 30 days after you moved since you are a DME provider), and they’ll let you resend it? Surely the NSC will be reasonable?  Sadly, that’s not how Medicare’s rules work. You have to appeal, and you have to do it quickly…within 60 days, or you’ll lose your right to do so. There are two steps to consider at this point…one is optional, and one is mandatory if you want to maintain your appeal rights.

II.  Corrective Action Plans to Address a Medicare Revocation Action:

First, consider filing a corrective action plan (CAP). Federal regulations give most providers the opportunity to do so within 30 days of receiving notice of Medicare revocation. It’s optional, but can sometimes result in a reversal of a termination much quicker than a request for reconsideration. Be forewarned, however, that filing a CAP is NOT the same as filing a request for reconsideration and WON’T preserve your appeal rights.

III. Challenging a Medicare Revocation Action — Reconsideration Requests.

Second, to maintain your appeal rights, you must file an official request for reconsideration within 60 days of receiving a revocation notice letter. Many of our clients elect to file a CAP, and if they don’t receive a decision before the 60 day reconsideration deadline, file the reconsideration also. The good news is that, when we prepare a CAP, it can serve as the foundation for the reconsideration request so that any duplication of effort is minimized.

IV.  Things to Know about CAPs and Reconsideration Requests.

First, a few notes on CAPs. They really aren’t what they sound like in the context of a Medicare revocation appeal. You can’t use a CAP to fix a problem that existed on the effective date of termination. For example, if you moved and didn’t file the necessary CMS Form-855 to tell the Medicare program on time, and were then terminated because a site inspector visited your old location and found you weren’t in business, you can’t use the CAP to fix the fact that you didn’t send the necessary forms on time. CAPs are most effective when a site inspector obviously made a mistake when they visited a location of record, or you can prove with objective evidence that you submitted required paperwork on time.

Let me illustrate…consider a home health agency client that received a revocation letter after a site inspector visited what they were told was the agency’s current practice location. The agency had concrete proof in the form of correspondence from the Medicare contractor that the contractor’s provider enrollment department had its correct address, but for some reason, the database used by the site inspector did not. The agency submitted a CAP that explained the apparent mismatch between the agency’s CMS provider enrollment record and the site inspector’s records and successfully reversed the revocation without ever having to file a request for reconsideration.  Another example might also be useful here. Many providers that receive revocation notices tell us they submitted necessary CMS-Form 855 updates on time, but they can’t provide any proof of delivery to the Medicare enrollment contractor such as Federal Express, UPS or USPS Priority Mail or Certified Mail tracking information. CMS and the provider community have long disagreed about exactly what a provider must do to satisfy its “duty to report” changes to its provider enrollment record. The relevant regulation applicable to our DME provider case described above is found at 42 CFR §424.57(c)(2); that regulation states in part that “. . . [t]he supplier must provide complete and accurate information in response to questions on its application for billing privileges. The supplier must report to CMS any changes in information supplied on the application within 30 days of the change.” (Emphasis added.)

A similar “duty to report” changes in enrollment information exists and is applicable to other providers. Physicians, non-physician practitioners and their organizations are required to report changes of ownership, adverse legal actions and changes in practice location within 30 days, and all other changes to information on their enrollment forms within 90 days. See 42 C.F.R. § 424.516(d). All other providers must report a change of ownership or control, a change of authorized or delegated official, or the revocation or suspension of a Federal or State license or certification within 30 days, and all other changes, including a change in practice location within 90 days. See id. at § 424.516(e).So the question remains…is proof of mailing to the correct Medicare enrollment contractor address enough to meet a provider’s or supplier’s duty to report under the above regulations, or do you also have to prove delivery? Is testimony that something was mailed enough to convince a hearing officer or administrative law judge that the duty to report was met, or must the provider have objective proof of delivery also? The regulations and the accompanying federal register notices promulgating them are silent on what “report” actually means. See, e.g., Potomac Medical Equipment, Inc. v. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, DAB Decision CR3268, p. 8-9 (June 20, 2014). In spite of provider arguments to the contrary and the fact that the regulation does not require providers to submit enrollment applications via trackable mail, recent CMS Departmental Appeals Board decisions have interpreted the duty to report to require objective evidence that an application was delivered to the NSC. See id. In the Potomac case, the ALJ admitted that CMS regulations “do not required providers and suppliers [to] send documents by certified mail . . . .” Id. at p. 9. In the same sentence, the ALJ then states the following: “. . . however, if they fail to do so, they will be deprived of evidence they need to prove NSC received those documents.” Id. In spite of all arguments to the contrary and the admitted ambiguity in the regulations, the decision makers in Medicare revocation appeal cases seem to have found the duty to report to require objective proof of delivery.Based on the above, we all providers should do the following:

  • Send all initial applications and time-sensitive, required updates to your Medicare provider enrollment contractor using a tracked delivery services.  If you have proof of delivery from one of these services, it is much likelier that we will be able to reverse a revocation with a CAP than if you don’t have this proof.
  • Always make a complete copy of everything you submit, along with the outside of the envelope showing the address information or a copy of the completed shipping label.
  • Don’t wait to the last minute. Send your provider enrollment update forms to the contractor early enough so that if they don’t arrive at the contractor’s location when they should, you’ll have the time to re-send them before your deadline expires.
  • Use the buddy system. Have someone on your staff or even a friend review an application with you before you send it, verify that it is signed and dated, watch you make a copy and put the original application in the mailing envelope, review any shipping invoice or mailing envelope for accuracy, and watch you deliver the finished envelope to the mailing service. We know it sounds over the top, but if called on to testify to what happened, having a buddy with a clear and complete recollection of your actions to submit an application or update will go a long way toward convincing a hearing officer or ALJ that what you say happened actually did.

Also, providers should be aware of the evidentiary rules for reconsideration requests and the next level of appeal. A provider can send almost anything along with a written request for reconsideration…documents, photos, witness affidavits, etc. The reconsideration process is intended to allow the provider to make their case to the reconsideration hearing officer in whatever fashion they’d like. Be aware, however, that the rules are entirely different if a provider loses at reconsideration and moves on to the next appeal level.

If a provider loses at reconsideration, they have the option to appeal the decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) with the Department of Health & Human Services, Departmental Appeals Board (DAB). DAB appeals have specific procedural and evidentiary regulations, one of which states that a provider will not be permitted to submit new documentary evidence at the DAB level of appeal absent a showing of good cause. See 42 C.F.R. § 498.56(e). What this rule means is that a provider can submit all the testimony they like with a DAB appeal, but they generally won’t be permitted to submit any new documents that they didn’t submit at reconsideration. For this reason, it is very important that providers carefully and thoroughly collect and submit all the documents that they think are relevant to their case with their reconsideration request. Assistance for experienced legal counsel with identifying those documents that might be helpful and developing legal arguments that may help your reconsideration request be successful can be invaluable at this stage. Having handled a number of both reconsideration requests and DAB appeals, our Firm is well-equipped to assist providers with identifying critical documents and other evidence and developing effective legal arguments to submit with a reconsideration request.

V.   Revocation and Reimbursement.

When a provider receives a revocation letter, the effective date of revocation may be a few days or weeks later, or may even pre-date it.  Providers need to understand that they won’t receive payment for any services provided to Medicare beneficiaries after the revocation effective date unless they are successful in an appeal.  This can mean a 60 day disruption in payment, a 4 month disruption, a 12 month disruption or a two or three year period where the provider can’t participate in the Medicare program. That can be very challenging to downright impossible for some providers to survive.

When considering your appeal options, keep in mind that CAPs typically are processed in 30 to 60 days after they are submitted. Reconsideration appeal decisions similarly take somewhere between 30 to 60 days after all documents are submitted to the hearing officer by the provider. Finally, DAB appeals typically take 180 days from the date of filing to receive a decision. If a provider were to pursue an appeal all the way through the DAB stage, it is not uncommon for the entire multi-level appeal process to take a year. If successful, the provider’s billing rights are typically reinstated back to the date of revocation.  Be aware, however, that the reinstatement process can often take a month or more.

If a provider chooses not to appeal, they will ordinarily be subjected to a re-enrollment bar of between 1 and 3 years, depending on the reason or reasons for the Medicare revocation action. It is important to take these time frames and the nature of a provider’s business, payor mix, overhead costs, reserves, chances of success and other factors into consideration when deciding whether a CAP, a reconsideration, and if necessary, a DAB appeal makes sense. Because we have handled a number of these cases, Liles Parker can help you weigh your options and make the best decision for your business.

VI.  We Can Help.

The attorneys at Liles Parker have extensive experience handling Medicare revocation appeals at all levels.  If you have received a revocation notice and want help, please contact us. Our goal is to help our clients have the best possible chance of success in any appeal.

Jennifer Papapanagiotou Healthcare AttorneyJennifer Papapanagiotou is a Partner at Liles Parker.  Jennifer has extensive experience representing health care providers and suppliers around the country in Medicare revocation matters and cases.  Should you have any questions regarding these complex issues, please give her a call.  For a free initial consultation, please call Jennifer at:  1(800) 475-1906.

Jurisdiction H: Novitas Posts New FAQs and EFT Alerts

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(May 15, 2012):  Liles Parker continues to monitor the consolidation of current MAC Jurisdictions 4 & 7 into Jurisdiction H, which will include Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma,  Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi and will be serviced by Novitas Solutions (formerly Highmark Medicare Services).  Novitas has posted a number of important alerts and informative FAQs on the implementation process over the last several weeks, including the following:

  • All providers in new Jurisdiction H who are currently serviced by Pinnacle Business Solutions, Inc., Cahaba Government Benefits Administrators  or TrailBlazer Health Enterprises  will receive letters over the next few months requesting they submit a new CMS-588 EFT Authorization Agreement so that Novitas can continue issuing payments post-cutover.  Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi Part A and Part B providers are first on Novitas’ implementation schedule and should receive their letters by May 16, 2012.  Providers will have 30 days to respond to a request letter or they may experience delays in payment after their cut-over date.  For full details, please see this notice published by Novitas.

  • All new, change of information, change of ownership and revalidation provider enrollment applications that are in process on a particular jurisdiction cut-over date will be transitioned to Novitas as of that date.  Novitas will have an online tool for confirming the status of in process applications, and will issue further instructions for checking the status of a transitioned application in the near future.  In addition, Novitas will take over all revalidation requests as of a jurisdiction’s particular cut-over date.

  • All Part A and Part B providers will continue using the same CCN/PTAN and NPI numbers post-transition.
  • Novitas will post all LCDs it intends to adopt for Jurisdiction H on June 28, 2012 to its website and to the Medicare Coverage Database.  After a 45 day notice period, the LCDs will become effective as of the date a particular contractor’s workload transitions to Novitas.
  • A number of FAQs on EDI were posted that address the transition process.

Please check Novitas’ Jurisdiction H Transition web-page for additional details and updates.  You can find the current schedule for cut-over dates and other useful information as well.

Healthcare LawyerLiles Parker is a full service health law firm, providing provider enrollment and change of ownership assistance, administrative appeal of overpayments, and legal analysis and assistance with Medicare reimbursement issues.  Should you have any questions, please contact Jennifer Papapanagiotou at (832) 594-4376 for a free consultation.