CMS Expands MIPS Reporting Relief in Disaster-Hit Areas

Kerry Dooley Young

February 05, 2018

Federal officials said they will expand an exemption from Medicare data-reporting requirements for healthcare professionals practicing in regions struck last year by hurricanes and wildfires.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) earlier allowed for relief from 2017 Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) reporting for physicians practicing in counties affected by wildfires in northern California and regions struck by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. On Thursday, CMS said it also will apply its "extreme and uncontrollable circumstances policy" to counties affected by Hurricane Nate and to additional counties affected by the California wildfires.

Medicare is in the process of fully implementing the MIPS system, which is intended to peg part of Medicare payments for medical services to judgments about the quality of service that is provided. CMS said it wants to spare doctors in hard-hit areas from the risk for reductions in Medicare pay in 2019 due to failures to submit full information about their 2017 performance. Physicians in those regions can automatically receive a "neutral MIPS payment adjustment" unless they opt to submit data for performance categories, the agency said.

Praise From Physicians' Groups

Physicians' groups, including the American Medical Association, last year praised this CMS approach to providing relief in hard-hit regions of the nation. Still, some asked for wider use of the policy. Rod Hochman, MD, chief executive of Providence St. Joseph Health, thanked the agency for the relief, saying that more than 150 of the organization's "caregivers lost their homes due to the wildfires, and many are still living in temporary housing.

"Our footprint also spans into Southern California where dozens of our caregivers in Los Angeles County were impacted by the Southern California wildfires," Dr Hochman wrote in a January comment to CMS. "We strongly urge CMS to apply similar exemptions to the Southern California communities that were impacted by these devastating wildfires."

CMS on Thursday said the policy now will apply to more counties throughout California, including Orange and Ventura Counties, near Los Angeles. Other California counties where the MIPS exemption now applies are Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Santa Barbara, Solano, Sonoma, and Yuba.

The policy also has been expanded to these Alabama counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Dallas, Macon, Mobile, and Washington. In Mississippi, the exemption applies in George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, and Stone Counties. These states were hit by Hurricane Nate in October.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August; in September, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, and Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.

CMS said it will be able to automatically identify physicians and healthcare professionals who qualify for this help, and thus these providers aren't required to submit applications to reweight MIPS performance categories.

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