Public Health Emergency Declared In Alabama

Governor Riley Thanks HHS for Declaring Public Health Emergency

Action Helps Citizens and Evacuees to Continue Receiving Health Care Services

CLANTON - Governor Bob Riley on Monday thanked Secretary Mike Leavitt of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for taking action to make sure Alabamians and hurricane evacuees in the state continue to receive federal- and state-covered health care services.

Secretary Leavitt declared a public health emergency for Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi. The action ensures that individuals enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program continue to receive health care items and services.

"This action will help beneficiaries, including some of our most vulnerable citizens, to continue receiving their health care services even if they have to evacuate their communities because of the hurricane," said Governor Riley. "I thank Secretary Leavitt for taking this important step that is so critically important to the well-being of people in Alabama and all across the gulf coast."

The public health emergency declaration allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take the following actions:

The agency will make certain that health care providers that provide items and services in good faith are exempt from sanctions for noncompliance with otherwise applicable requirement, provided there is no fraud or abuse.

CMS will waive certain program requirements for the following institutional providers:

* Critical Access Hospitals: Allow these hospitals to take more than the statutorily mandated limit of 25 patients and not count the expected longer lengths of stay for evacuated patients against the 96-hour average;

* Skilled Nursing Facilities: Waive the three-day prior hospitalization requirement for admission for evacuated patients and relax limitations on the benefit period for those evacuated patients;

* Long-Term Care Hospitals: Not count the evacuated patients in determining compliance with the 25 day average length of stay requirement;

* Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities: Not count the evacuated patients in determining compliance with the 60 percent rule requirement. The 60 percent rule requires that at least 60 percent of a facility's patient population fall into certain clinical conditions.

CMS will expand the definition of "home" to allow those Medicare beneficiaries who are receiving home health services to receive those services in alternative sites.

For the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, CMS has been working with prescription drug plans to ensure that rules preventing early refills are waived. This will assist those beneficiaries who left their prescriptions in evacuated homes or lost their prescriptions when they had to leave their homes.

Beneficiaries in Medicare health plans will be able to go out of network during this emergency. CMS is working with the health insurance industry to ensure there are no barriers to this service for those enrolled in these plans.

CMS will work with affected State Survey Agencies and providers to temporarily adjust quality assurance enforcement actions where the immediacy of direct patient care needs due to Hurricane Gustav is appropriate.

End Stage Renal Disease Networks in the Gulf States have already initiated arrangements to ensure the continuation of dialysis and health services for end stage renal disease patients. Also, CMS will be working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to manage lost, stolen, or abandoned durable medical equipment.

-Alabama Governor's Press Office News Release