Accreditation requirement causes last-minute confusion

Sunday, September 27, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine - Just days before the Oct. 1 deadline, some providers who have not finished the accreditation process aren't sure whether they need to voluntarily revoke their Medicare numbers.

 They do, according to accreditation officials. Only providers who voluntarily revoke their numbers can have them re-activated after becoming accredited. Those who don't will have their numbers revoked for one year.

 "Providers must do this," said Sandra Canally, president of The Compliance Team. "It's very serious."

 Providers can voluntarily revoke their numbers by filing a revised 855S Medicare enrollment application with the National Supplier Clearinghouse (NSC), accreditation officials say.

 Initially, this was news to provider Bill Lamberson. He thought only providers who chose not to become accredited by the Oct. 1 deadline had to voluntarily revoke their numbers, not providers who, like him, weren't able to get surveyed in time.

 "We just planned to not bill Medicare for a month or two until they could get to us," said Lamberson, president of Lamberson's Home Care in Duluth, Ga., who expects to be surveyed some time in October or November.

 Despite rumors, the rules are no different for providers who are in the process of becoming accredited, officials say.

 "You're either accredited by the deadline or you're not," said Sherry Hedrick, senior vice president of clinical compliance for ACHC. "CMS and others have made that pretty clear, and we've tried very hard to communicate that to our customers."

 Still, Lamberson's not alone, sources say.

 "There's definitely a lack of awareness out there," said Bob Weir, a surveyor.

 It's unclear how long it will take the NSC to re-activate voluntarily revoked numbers once providers become accredited.

 "My understanding, and what we've told providers, is as soon as they're surveyed, they can reapply," Hedrick said. "As soon as the NSC processes their application, they'll get an approval date and they can start billing again on that date. We don't have a definitive timeframe."

 The process could take two to four months, according to sources.

 Providers like Kelley Matusic, who planned to voluntarily revoke her number before the deadline, worry about going months without billing Medicare.

 "I'm worried about losing my customers," said Matusic, who owns Family Medical in Hurricane, West Va. "And if I'm able to keep my customers, I'm worried about interrupting their service. I don't understand why, if you've started the process, you can't get an extension."