Accreditation: Tsunami hits Sept. 30

Thursday, April 30, 2009

HME providers that plan to serve Medicare patients Oct. 1 must be accredited or risk facing an unwelcome interruption in their contracting status, accrediting sources warn.

After a series of starts and stops over the past couple of years, CMS set a Sept. 30, 2009, deadline for providers to become accredited. The agency suggested they submit applications by Jan. 31, 2009, to make sure they complete the process in time. Non-accredited companies will reportedly lose their Medicare provider numbers and billing status on Oct. 1.

For accrediting organizations, provider applications and enrollments have ebbed and flowed over the past two years. Yet the question remains: Will the HME industry be ready once mandatory accreditation begins?

Jack Anderson, CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Accreditation Helper, believes the industry’s commitment to accreditation has been lackluster so far.

“It’s puzzling in that it seems not enough providers have applied to service the CMS population,” he said. “Many providers seem to be procrastinating, hoping something will change before Sept. 30. This could lead to big problems later this year with either a large number showing up at the last minute or not enough providers being accredited.”

Others, like Matt Hughes, believe providers have taken the necessary steps toward accreditation. But Hughes, accreditation and business relations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based ACHC, admits that there is “a smaller part of the population still waiting and thinking that the mandatory accreditation will go away - they don’t understand the value of what accreditation will bring to their organization.”

Mary Nicholas, executive director of the Waterloo, Iowa-based HQAA, says providers who have applied after the Jan. 31 cut-off date are risking not getting surveyed in time, though she asserts her organization will do what it can to move as many through the survey process as possible.

“I can’t say that every applicant will get through the system by Sept. 30,” she said. “Those that have not met the deadline will be processed by the dates that work was completed. It has been said for more than 15 months that to wait will increase the risk for companies to make it within the constraints we are all working under, yet there are many that have placed themselves in that position.”

The Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.-based Joint Commission acknowledges that providers who submitted their applications before the “soft” Jan. 31 deadline will be reviewed so that there is no disruption to their business. Debra Zack, executive director of its homecare accreditation program, says at this point, serious providers have taken the steps necessary for accreditation.

“Our sense is that the majority of providers familiar with Medicare regulations have already made plans to become accredited and have been going through the process for some time,” she said. “January was a big month for all accreditors, but it didn’t account for the biggest spike in applications.”

Anderson is confident all accreditors should be able to handle the current workload but adds “if several thousand show up this summer, all bets are off.”

Ted Jones, president of the Los Angeles-based Intelligence Business Network, agrees that the accreditors appear to be handling the applicant volume, but he wonders about the survey process itself.

“The real question is how well are the surveys going?” he said. “What level of quality can we expect as a result of this tsunami? What we are seeing are different levels of surveys from the accrediting bodies. Some accreditors require their surveyors to spend a whole day on site evaluating the DME operation, while others spend less time.”

Marketing accreditation

Even if it’s mandatory, providers should still view accreditation as a badge of distinction and promote it to clientele, agency representatives say.

Hughes offers several effective marketing suggestions: Distribute a press release to community newspapers and local TV stations; use the accreditation logo on letterheads and business cards; and send letters of achievement to existing and potential referral sources.

“All marketing materials should highlight the fact that you have been reviewed by an outside, impartial group for best business and clinical practices,” he advised.

Apparel is another good marketing vehicle, Nicholas said.

“One of our customers has embroidered shirts with the HQAA logo along with the company name,” she said. “It’s a great way to market and inform your customers and other contacts that you are committed to continuous improvement efforts.”

Additionally, the Joint Commission offers a downloadable publicity kit on its Web site that advises members how to promote their achievements, Zack said.