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CMS Prepares Disability and Aging Networks for End of Public Health Emergency

May 11, 2022 by Alexa Hornbeck
Seniors gather for harp performance at nursing home in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Ann via Flickr)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is preparing states to return to normal eligibility and enrollment operations after the public health emergency expires, with special attention on how the end of the PHE will impact those who are elderly and disabled. 

“We are taking a whole-of-government approach to planning for the eventual end of the Public Health Emergency, maximizing coverage retention and smoothing transitions to the marketplace,” said a spokesperson from CMS in an email to The Well News.

On Jan. 31, 2020 (retroactive to Jan. 27) former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II declared the COVID-19 public health emergency, and indicated that declaration could only be extended for 90-days at a time.

In April of 2022 the HHS renewed the declaration of the PHE until July 15, which will extend any waivers and flexibilities put into place by states and commercial payers. 

CMS released guidance in March to help to prepare disability and aging networks and states for initiating eligibility renewals for all individuals enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP within 12 months of the eventual end of the PHE, and to complete renewals within 14 months. 

“To help consumers, including individuals with developmental disabilities, maintain coverage, the guidance also emphasizes current rules requiring states to provide a smooth transition to other options for those who may no longer be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP once the PHE eventually ends,” said the spokesperson from CMS. 

CMS has also provided additional resources on their unwinding page for disability and aging networks to prepare beneficiaries for the end of the PHE. 

“CMS has also been engaging extensively with stakeholders, including working with the Administration for Community Living, to reach the disability and aging networks, to obtain input on strategies and leverage relationships with beneficiaries and community partners,” said the spokesperson from CMS. 

The Disability and Aging Collaborative, which coordinates efforts to bring together disability and aging organizations, requests that CMS will give states more time to adjust to the changes after the PHE ends as part of the unwinding guidance.

The collaborative sent a letter to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure in early March, requesting at least 120 days of notice for when HHS intends to end the PHE to prevent individuals from wrongly being lifted from benefits. 

To prepare disability and aging networks for the end of the PHE the ACL also released a fact sheet in April to try to prepare older adults and people with disabilities for disruptions in services that could impact current enrollees at the end of the PHE. 

The fact sheet provides new materials from CMS, and five points of guidance on how disability and aging networks should prepare for eligibility determinations. 

The guidance from ACL recommends that Medicaid beneficiaries keep their contact information up-to-date, and check their mail for any Medicaid forms received. It also recommends that disability and aging networks make all renewal forms and notices accessible to people with limited English proficiency and people with disabilities.

The guidance instructs disability and aging networks to make sure that people who are no longer eligible for Medicaid will have other coverage options, and can enroll outside of the regular enrollment period. It also requests that certain individuals receive special counseling, including information on Medicare enrollment periods, penalties, and Medicare Advantage options. 

Medicaid beneficiaries who had their benefits mistakenly terminated or their eligibility reduced will also have the right to appeal through a fair hearing to contest the Medicaid agency’s decision, according to the fact sheet.

Under the Older Americans Act, search tools like the eldercare locator, are available for individuals over the age of 60 to receive free legal services.

According to the guidance, the Disability Information and Access Line can assist individuals living with disabilities in finding legal aid organizations, and protection and advocacy systems which can assist them.

The guidance warns that disability and aging networks should prepare for surges in services, as the end of the PHE may lead to an increase in utilization of services provided by the Older Americans Act programs, Centers for Independent Living, and the Assistive Technology Act programs and other ACL grantees.

Alexa can be reached at alexa@thewellnews.com 

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