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Texas, Coping With Public Health Emergency After Hurricane Harvey, Asks Payers for Flexibility

Christina Mattina
The state of Texas remains in a public health emergency after the landfall of Hurricane Harvey as first responders rush to meet emergency medical needs and officials urge insurers to loosen restrictions on care delivery.
The state of Texas remains in a public health emergency after the landfall of Hurricane Harvey as first responders rush to meet emergency medical needs and officials urge insurers to loosen restrictions on care delivery. The damage inflicted by the storm, which made landfall Friday, but then lingered to flood large areas of the state, could result in costs of $30 billion.

The public health emergency declaration made by HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, on Friday followed a major disaster declaration from the White House and allows for health resources to be mobilized to the affected areas of Texas and Louisiana. These resources and personnel, according to an HHS announcement, include the following:
  • 460 National Disaster Medical System clinicians and personnel
  • 6 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, supported by Incident Response Coordination Teams
  • Two 250-bed Federal Medical Stations to Louisiana, and several more in Dallas, Texas
  • US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps on call for rapid deployment to Federal Medical Stations
  • Toll-free Disaster Distress Helpline for behavioral health needs
Along with these physical resources, HHS has also supplied data on individuals who rely on electricity to power their medical equipment, so local authorities can identify them for rescue. Awareness campaigns spread prior to Harvey’s landfall had provided education on safety precautions to take before, during, and after the storm.

“We recognize the gravity of the situation in Texas, and the declaration of a public health emergency will provide additional flexibility and authority to help those who have been impacted by the storm,” said Price in a press release.

Part of this flexibility allows CMS to waive the usual documentation requirements needed to deliver care for Medicare beneficiaries, since it may not be possible to access health records and enrollment status for patients who have been evacuated out of their communities. With the documentation requirements lifted, patients can access needed care without having to demonstrate their status as Medicare beneficiaries.

At the state level, the Texas insurance commissioner issued a bulletin urging insurers to waive their normal penalties for accessing out-of-network care, considering the evacuations, and to suspend any requirements like prior authorization or referrals that could slow down the care delivery process. It also called on payers to extend their deadlines for filing claims until the emergency is declared over.

“Insureds, enrollees, or certificate holders should not be left without their necessary health care or dental services during a catastrophic event,” the commissioner stated.

According to Bloomberg, the total costs incurred by Harvey could reach $30 billion, which would place it among the top 8 most damaging storms in history. The storm was not yet finished as of Monday afternoon, as the National Weather Service tweeted that “more rain remains in the forecast” for Dayton, Texas, a town that has already endured nearly 40 inches in total rainfall from Harvey.

 
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