Accreditors: Sept. 30, 2009, isn't as far off as it seems

Sunday, December 30, 2007

YARMOUTH, Maine – CMS's Dec. 17 announcement of a Sept. 30, 2009, deadline for mandatory accreditation may have been lost in the holiday hullabaloo, but accrediting agencies expect that to change after the first of the year.

"I am sure we'll see a significant increase once the holidays are over," said Sandra Canally, president of The Compliance Team. "It already has generated some activity."

But with the deadline 21 months away, most providers will probably continue to drag their feet, predicts Mary Nicholas, executive director of HQAA.

While some will start the process immediately and some will wait until the last minute, most providers will probably fall somewhere in the middle, she said. The ones who wait until the very end risk not meeting CMS's deadline.

Nicholas received a call last week from a provider who had already begun the process.

"He said, 'Can you put my accreditation on hold? We've got plenty of time now,'" Nicholas lamented.

Nicholas said HQAA is considering a cut-off date for accepting applications from providers trying to make the Sept. 30, 2009 deadline—probably six months beforehand.

For providers still waiting to start the process, the hold-up seems to be time and money, as well as preconceived notions about the process itself, said Scott Williamson, director of facility accreditation for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthists.

"Its not well understood and it's not easy," he said. "Many providers see it as an intrusion into their work."

Tom Cesar is waiting to hear from providers who are on the fence.

"We have 700 DMEs and pharmacies that have bought our manual but are on hold," said the president and CEO of ACHC. "We expect to see them flip the switch in January. We're ready."

In fact, all of the agencies said they are prepared for an onslaught.

"We've got surveyors trained and ready to go," said Williamson. "As we see increases, we'll ramp up."

Accreditors also reiterated their warnings that providers need to allow time for the process, which can take up to several months, and realize that if everyone waits until the last minute, some companies will be left in the cold—and without a Medicare billing number.

"We have enough time, provided they come forward," said Canally. "If thousands wait, there's going to be a problem."