CMS allows more time for health care ID numbers

Filed under: Health Care |

With the date for complying with National Provider Identifier regulations looming May 23, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has developed a contingency plan for health care providers who will not meet the deadline.

Required as part of the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, every health care provider is supposed to have applied for a unique identification number. But many providers have not obtained the required documentation, according to CMS acting administrator Leslie V. Norwalk.

Covered entities that have made a “good faith effort” to comply with the provisions can implement a contingency plan that includes accepting legacy provider numbers on HIPPA transactions.

Those plans are good for another year, Norwalk said.

The NPI will be used to identify health care providers, eliminating the current need for multiple identifiers for the same provider.

The NPI replaces all legacy identifiers — such as Medicaid provider IDs and individual plan provider IDs — and will be required for use on health care claims and other HIPAA transactions.

CMS changed the guidelines after it became apparent that many groups won’t be able to fully comply with the standard by the deadline. As long as those groups continue to work to come into compliance, CMS will not penalize the providers, Norwalk said.

For more information or for a guide about how to comply with HIPPA regulations, visit www.cms.hhs.gov.

Telemedicine grants

The U.S. government is offering $128 million in loans and grants for telemedicine and distant learning this year.

The money comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will make $62.9 million available in loans, $50 million available in loan and grant combinations and $15 million available in grants.

The deadline for grant applications is June 8. Applicants will compete nationally for funding.

Since 2002, the USDA has invested more than $166 million in its distance learning and telemedicine program. More than 2,200 health care institutions have used the program to develop telemedicine technologies, which give people living in rural areas access to medical specialists.

For more information or a copy of the grant application, visit www.usda.gov/rus/telecom/dlt/dlt.htm.

Skin cancer screening

The Memorial Health System Cancer Center is taking appointments for a free community skin cancer screening from 8 a.m. to noon May 5.

The American Cancer Society says that there will be nearly 60,000 new melanomas (the most serious form of skin cancer) detected this year. Colorado residents have a higher incidence of skin cancer because they are exposed to 25 percent more ultraviolet rays from the sun than people living at sea level.

Appointments must be made in advance by calling Memorial HealthLink at 444-CARE.

Long delay in IT ROI

Long delays to see returns on information technology investments could explain why the hospital industry has been lagging behind other industries in technology spending.

According to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, hospitals have to wait at least two years after their initial investments before operational performance improvements are seen.

“The Economics of IT and Hospital Performance” shows that hospitals incur operating costs in those two years with little financial benefit.

“Hospital management should not justify expensive new IT investments purely on the assumption that these investments will create huge and rapid paybacks for the organization,” the report said.

But the industry is nearing a “tipping point,” according to the report, with six of 10 hospitals showing industrywide cost reductions and quality improvements that might become more widely apparent in hospitals that invested in IT improvements several years ago.

HSAs gain ground

Health savings accounts are continuing to gain popularity, with a 43 percent increase since 2005.

More than 4.5 million Americans are covered by low-premium, high-deductible health insurance plans, according to a survey conducted by America’s Health Insurance Plans.

Eighty-eight percent of accounts in place in 2006 had average annual balances of $2,500 or less, while 4 percent had average annual balances of more than $5,000.

As of January, 65 percent of accounts had been in place for less than a year.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • HSA plans accounted for 25 percent of new products in the individual market, 17 percent of new policies in the small-group market and 8 percent of new policies in the large-group market.
  • Most companies (more than 90 percent) offered HSA plan options with preventive benefits that are covered before the deductible is satisfied.

The study is available at www.ahipresearch.org.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.