How Medicare responds to hurricane-related disasters

Published: October 11, 2018

When a natural disaster, extreme weather or other emergency occurs that affects providers and the Medicare beneficiaries that they serve, special emergency-related policies and procedures may be implemented.

The process begins when a governor of an affected state requests assistance. This is done if the event is beyond the combined response abilities of the state and local governments. From this request, the President of the United States can declare a Public Health Emergency (PHE), using the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

Under Section 1135 or 1812(f) of the Social Security Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can issue ‘blanket waivers’ for providers and suppliers when it comes to services that are provided by skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies and critical access hospitals. Measures are in place to assist with durable medical equipment and supplies, as well as quality reporting, extending the appeals time limit, and getting replacement prescription refills.

As an example in an impacted area, when a waiver is granted for submitting appeal requests (which normally would need to be filed 120 days from the date of the claim denial notification), an appeal may be filed after the 120 days based on CMS guidance.

The following are the most recent hurricane-related PHE’s for which HHS has authorized waivers:

2018 Waivers

  • Hurricane Michael – Florida (at the time of writing this article)
  • Hurricane Florence – North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia

2017 Waivers

  • Hurricane Maria – Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Hurricane Nate – Louisiana and Mississippi
  • Hurricane Irma – Florida, Georgia and South Carolina
  • Hurricane Harvey – Texas and Louisiana

Medicare has a toll-free helpline you can use if you are in an impacted area. This Disaster Distress Helpline is available 24/7. The toll-free, multilingual and confidential crisis support service can be reached by calling 1-800-985-5990. You can also text TalkWithUs to 66746 (for Spanish, press 2 or text Hablanos to 66746) to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

More information is available to you at the following address: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2018/10/09/hhs-secretary-azar-declares-public-health-emergency-florida-due-hurricane-michael.html

Hurricanes don’t discriminate in terms of destruction, and there are times when a person only has the clothes on their back – but no wallet or Medicare card to get assistance. If you lose your Medicare card, you can call our Beneficiary Customer Service Center at 800-833-4455, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. ET to order a new one. For the hearing impaired, call TTY/TDD at 877-566-3572. You may also call the Railroad Retirement Board at 877-772-5772.

You are encouraged you to visit Palmetto GBA’s Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/MyRRMedicare, as well as their website at www.PalmettoGBA.com/RR/Me for more information.