Medicare announces emergency funds for doctors affected by Change Healthcare hack

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Federal health officials on Saturday said they would offer emergency funding to physicians, physical therapists and other professionals that provide outpatient health care, following a cyberattack that crippled the nation’s largest processor of medical claims and left many organizations in financial distress.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also announced that it would make advance payments available to suppliers that bill through Medicare Part B, which serves a wide array of health-care organizations. Officials had previously announced a similar program to make emergency payments available for hospitals that had been ensnared by the Feb. 21 hack of Change Healthcare, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, and have struggled to get paid for more than two weeks. The emergency funds represent upfront payments made to health-care providers and suppliers based on their expected future claims.

“CMS looks forward to continuing to support the provider community during this difficult situation,” the agency said in a statement, laying out eligibility requirements for providers seeking the emergency funds. CMS and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, have also encouraged private health plans to expedite payments and take other steps as the U.S. health system reels from weeks of unpaid bills.

Health-care hack spreads pain across hospitals and doctors nationwide

Lawmakers and physicians on Saturday said that emergency funding would offer sorely needed financial relief to physician groups and other health-care providers that have rapidly exhausted their cash reserves and are struggling to meet payroll. Members of Congress and the health-care industry had panned federal officials for not making more help available for physicians and suppliers, saying that the smaller organizations needed emergency aid more than deeper-pocketed hospitals.

“The opening up of Medicare Part B will directly help our doctors on the front lines of this crisis who for weeks have been seeing unpaid bills pile up, threatening their ability to stay open and continue providing care to patients,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement on Saturday. Schumer and other members of Congress — including Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), who are physicians — had pressed federal health officials to make more aid available to doctor groups.

“It’s going to help significantly,” added Farzad Mostashari, the CEO of Aledade, the nation’s largest network of independent physician practices. Mostashari had previously warned that as many as 25 percent of physician practices were in financial distress.

Officials rush to help hospitals, doctors affected by Change Healthcare hack

UnitedHealth had previously announced that it would make emergency payments available to health-care providers affected by the Change Healthcare hack, but physicians have said the offers are insufficient. Some doctors who are waiting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to be paid have reported receiving offers of several hundred or a few thousand dollars.

UnitedHealth on Thursday also announced a timeline to bring its network back online, saying that it expects to begin testing and reestablishing its claims network on March 18.

Mostashari said he was cautious about the timeline laid out by UnitedHealth.

“Just having the system initially restored doesn’t mean that claims are going to be flowing, or that payments are going to be flowing, potentially for weeks,” he added. “I worry a little bit that people are going to look at that announcement and say, ‘Oh, on March 18th, money will be in my bank account.’ That is not the case.”



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