New guidelines knock wind out of providers
WASHINGTON--The HME industry’s worst fears were realized on Oct. 31 when CMS released long-awaited guidance for providing oxygen after the 36-month cap.
For patients who cap out Jan. 1, providers must continue to provide emergency services, as well as supplies, accessories and repairs, for no further payments for the “useful five-year life of the equipment,” CMS states.
“Once again, CMS is discounting the level of service that providers now furnish to their patients for their oxygen service,” said Walt Gorski, vice president of government relations for AAHomecare
The guidance is part of the final rule for the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule for 2009. A comment period will last 60 days.
After the cap, CMS will continue to pay for oxygen contents for liquid or gas, and for routine, in-home maintenance and service once every six months. The routine maintenance payments are in effect for 2009 only.
“They are going to pay it for this year, but they want comments on whether that’s adequate or if they even need to pay it at all,” said industry attorney Asela Cuervo. Maintenance payments vary across the four Medicare jurisdictions but average about $25 to $30, according to Cara Bachenheimer, Invacare’s senior vice president of government affairs. Costs are $60 to $75, she said. Repairs and parts are not covered because they are considered an asset of the provider.
“There is this expectation that because they’ve been paying you for three years that you’ve got the wherewithal and obligation to continue servicing the patient and equipment for no money whatsoever-zippo,” Bachenheimer said.
One big question on the minds of providers: What happens when a patient relocates, either permanently or temporarily? Many providers have reported that they are already having difficulty finding anyone willing to take a patient nearing the 36-month cap.
The answer isn’t good. CMS’s position: It is the responsibility of the original provider to continue providing service or find the patient a new one. Gorski calls this “unworkable.”