It’s nearly been two years (November 15, 2017) since health care providers and suppliers receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were to comply with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Emergency Preparedness Rule. The rule was designed to establish national emergency preparedness requirements to ensure adequate planning for both natural and man-made disasters; and coordination with federal, state, tribal, regional and local emergency preparedness systems. It applied to all 17 provider and supplier types, including hospitals, long-term care (LTC) facilities, ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), rural health clinics (RHCs), and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), among others. That is, until now.

On September 26, 2019, CMS released the Omnibus Burden Reduction (Conditions of Participation) Final Rule, which removes Medicare regulations identified as unnecessary, obsolete, or excessively burdensome on healthcare providers to reduce inefficiencies. Specifically, the final rule would reduce the emergency preparedness burden for federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs). These “safety net” providers include community health centers, migrant health centers, health care for the homeless health centers, public housing primary care centers, and health center program “look-alikes.” They also include outpatient health programs or facilities operated by a tribe or tribal organization or by an urban Indian organization.

So, what does the Omnibus Burden Reduction (Conditions of Participation) Final Rule actually mean to FQHCs? And, more specifically to their compliance with the CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule? It means the following:

Emergency program: CMS decreased the requirements for facilities to conduct an annual review of their emergency program to a biennial review.

Emergency plan: CMS eliminated the requirement that the emergency plan include documentation of efforts to contact local, tribal, regional, state, and federal emergency preparedness officials and a facility’s participation in collaborative and cooperative planning efforts.

Training: CMS decreased the training requirement from annually to every two years.

Testing: CMS decreased the requirement for facilities to conduct two testing exercises to one testing exercise annually.

While the Omnibus Burden Reduction (Conditions of Participation) Final Rule may make it easier for FQHCs to comply with the CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule, it doesn’t mean these efforts should slow down or get pushed to the side. Effective emergency preparedness takes time. There are plans to develop, partnerships to form (and nurture), plus training and exercises to conduct. That said, even with the rule changes, keep the outcome in mind, and keep up the great work.

As a reminder, all the other requirements in the CMS Emergency Preparedness Rule remain the same, so be ready when your health care facility’s routine CMS audit rolls around.