CMS Announces Waivers During California Wildfires Emergency

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Once again our country has been hit with a devastating natural disaster. As of this writing, the California wildfires have burned a quarter of a million acres including destroying the city of Paradise. Tragically, 79 people have lost their lives with many hundreds still missing. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced due to mandatory evacuations.

The Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency in affected areas of California, retroactive to November 8th. As a result of this declaration, and as it has previously when Hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck in 2017 and Hurricane Michael earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced technical assistance with Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP programs. 

A public health emergency allows CMS to modify or waive certain health program requirements in order to continue to provide health services.

Emergency Program Changes

  • A blanket skilled nursing waiver has been issued so these facilities are able to continue to provide access to health care.

  • Medicare Advantage organizations in affected areas must waive prior authorization and other gatekeeping requirements so that care can be provided by non-contracted providers and facilities.

  • Beneficiaries affected by the wildfires will have a special enrollment period in which they can add, drop or change their Medicare health and prescription drug plan. This special period will be available if they were unable to make an election during the fall or other open enrollment period.

  • Dialysis patients who are unable to receive dialysis services at their usual facility can locate other facilities by calling the Patient Hotlines.

For more details on the emergency program changes, read the CMS.gov press release and the CMS blanket waivers for this specific emergency.

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