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 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs): CMS Flexibilities to Fight COVID-19

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, the Trump Administration has issued an unprecedented array of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to equip the American healthcare system with maximum flexibility to respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These temporary changes will apply immediately across the entire U.S. healthcare system for the duration of the emergency declaration. The goals of these actions are to 1) expand the healthcare system workforce by removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to be readily hired from the community or from other states; 2) ensure that local hospitals and health systems have the capacity to handle a potential surge of COVID-19 patients through temporary expansion sites (also known as CMS Hospital Without Walls); 3) increase access to telehealth in Medicare to ensure patients have access to physicians and other clinicians while keeping patients safe at home; 4) expand in-place testing to allow for more testing at home or in community based settings; and 5) put Patients Over Paperwork to give temporary relief from many paperwork, reporting and audit requirements so providers, health care facilities, Medicare Advantage and Part D plans, and States can focus on providing needed care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries affected by COVID-19.

Medicare Telehealth

  • https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-General-Information/ Telehealth/Telehealth-Codes.

Workforce

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    • CMS is waiving the requirement in the second sentence of 42 CFR §491.8(a)(6) that a nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or certified nurse-midwife be available to furnish patient care services at least 50 percent of the time the RHC and FQHC operates. CMS is not waiving the first sentence of §491.8(a)(6) that requires a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, certified nurse-midwife, clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist to be available to furnish patient care services at all times the clinic or center operates. This will assist in addressing potential staffing shortages by increasing flexibility regarding staffing mixes during the PHE.
    • We are modifying the requirement at 42 C.F.R. 491.8(b)(1) that physicians must provide medical direction for the clinic’s or center’s health care activities and consultation for, and medical supervision of, the health care staff, only with respect to medical supervision of nurse practitioners, and only to the extent permitted by state law. The physician, either in person or through telehealth and other remote communications, continues to be responsible for providing medical direction for the clinic or center’s health care activities and consultation for the health care staff, and medical supervision of the remaining health care staff. This allows RHCs and FQHCs to use nurse practitioners to the fullest extent possible and allows physicians to direct their time to more critical tasks.

Patients Over Paperwork

    • The physician self-referral law (also known as the “Stark Law”) prohibits a physician from making referrals for certain healthcare services payable by Medicare if the physician (or an immediate family member) has a financial relationship with the entity performing the service. There are statutory and regulatory exceptions, but in short, a physician cannot refer a patient to any entity with which he or she has a financial relationship. On March 30, 2020, CMS issued blanket waivers of certain provisions of the Stark Law regulations. These blanket waivers apply to financial relationships and referrals that are related to the COVID-19 emergency. The remuneration and referrals described in the blanket waivers must be solely related to COVID-19 Purposes, as defined in the blanket waiver document. Under the waivers, CMS will permit certain referrals and the submission of related claims that would otherwise violate the Stark Law. These flexibilities include: Hospitals and other health care providers can pay above or below fair market value for the personal services of a physician (or an immediate family member of a physician), and parties may pay below fair market value to rent equipment or purchase items or services. For example, a physician practice may be willing to rent or sell needed equipment to a hospital at a price that is below what the practice could charge another party. Or, a hospital may provide space on hospital grounds at no charge to a physician who is willing to treat patients who seek care at the hospital but are not appropriate for emergency department or inpatient care.

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    • CCMS has established toll-free hotlines for all providers as well as the following flexibilities for provider enrollment: Waive certain screening requirements.

Payment

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  1. In order to provide additional cash flow to healthcare providers and suppliers impacted by COVID-19, CMS expanded and streamlined the Accelerated and Advance Payments Program, which provided conditional partial payments to providers and suppliers to address disruptions in claims submission and/or claims processing subject to applicable safeguards for fraud, waste and abuse. Under this program, CMS made successful payment of over $100 billion to healthcare providers and suppliers. As of April 26, 2020, CMS is reevaluating all pending and new applications for the Accelerated Payment Program and has suspended the Advance Payment Program, in light of direct payments made available through the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) Provider Relief Fund. Distributions made through the Provider Relief Fund do not need to be repaid. For providers and suppliers who have received accelerated or advance payments related to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, CMS will not pursue recovery of these payments until 120 days after the date of payment issuance. Providers and suppliers with questions regarding the repayment of their accelerated or advance payment(s) should contact their appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC).

Medicare appeals in Fee for Service, Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D

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Cost Reporting

Additional Guidance

  • https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/ emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers.
  • https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certi ficationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and-memos-states-and/guidance-infection-control-and-prevention-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outpatient-settings-faqs.

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