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The COVID-19 emergency has caused CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) to expand eligibility for expedited payments to Medicare providers and suppliers for the duration of the public health emergency.

Accelerated payments have been available to providers/suppliers in the past due to a disruption in claims submission or claims processing, mainly due to natural disasters. Because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, CMS has expanded the accelerated payment program to provide necessary funds to eligible providers/suppliers who submit a request to their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) and meet the required qualifications.

Eligibility requirements―Providers/suppliers who:

  1. Have billed Medicare for claims within 180 days immediately prior to the date of signature on the provider’s/supplier’s request form,
  2. Are not in bankruptcy,
  3. Are not under active medical review or program integrity investigation, and
  4. Do not have any outstanding delinquent Medicare overpayments.

Amount of payment:
Eligible providers/suppliers will request a specific amount for an accelerated payment. Most providers can request up to 100% of the Medicare payment amount for a three-month period. Inpatient acute care hospitals and certain other hospitals can request up to 100% of the Medicare payment amount for a six-month period. Critical access hospitals (CAHs) can request up to 125% of the Medicare payment for a six-month period.

Processing time:
CMS has indicated that MACs will work to review and issue payment within seven calendar days of receiving the request.

Repayment, recoupment, and reconciliation:
The December 2020 Bipartisan-Bicameral Omnibus COVID Relief Deal revised the repayment, recoupment and reconciliation timeline on the Medicare Advanced and Accelerated Payment Program as identified below. 

Hospitals repayment, recoupment and reconciliation timeline 
Original Timeline 
Time from date of payment receipt  Recoupment & Repayment
120 days  No payments due 
121 - 365 days  Medicare claims reduced by 100% 
> 365 days provider may repay any balance due or be subject to an ~9.5% interest rate      Recoupment period ends - repayment of outstanding balance due 

Hospitals repayment, recoupment and reconciliation timeline 
Updated Timeline
Time from date of payment receipt  Recoupment & Repayment
1 year  No payments due 
11 months  Medicare claims reduced by 25% 
6 months  Medicare claims reduced by 50% 
> 29 months provider may repay any balance due or be subject to an 4% interest rate  Recoupment period ends - repayment of outstanding balance due 

Non-hospitals repayment, recoupment and reconciliation timeline
Original Timeline 
Time from date of payment receipt  Recoupment & Repayment
120 days  No payments due 
121 - 210 days Medicare claims reduced by 100% 
> 210 days provider may repay any balance due or be subject to an ~9.5% interest rate Recoupment period ends - repayment of outstanding balance due 

Non-hospitals repayment, recoupment and reconciliation timeline
Updated Timeline 
Time from date of payment receipt  Recoupment & Repayment
1 year No payments due 
11 months  Medicare claims reduced by 25% 
6 months Medicare claims reduced by 50% 
> 29 months provider may repay any balance due or be subject to an 4% interest rate  Recoupment period ends - outstanding balance due 

Application:
The MAC for Jurisdiction 6 and Jurisdiction K is NGS (National Government Services). The NGS application for accelerated payment can be found here.

The NGS Hotline telephone number is 1.888.802.3898. Per NGSMedicare.com, representatives are available Monday through Friday during regular business hours.

The MAC will review the application to ensure the eligibility requirements are met. The provider/supplier will be notified of approval or denial by mail or email. If the request is approved, the MAC will issue the accelerated payment within seven calendar days from the request.

Tips for filing the Request for Accelerated/Advance Payment:
The key to determining whether a provider should apply under Part A or Part B is the Medicare Identification number. For hospitals, the majority of funding would originate under Part A based on the CMS Certification Number (CCN) also known as the Provider Transaction Access Number (PTAN). As an example, Maine hospitals have CCN / PTAN numbers that use the following numbering convention "20-XXXX". Part B requests would originate when the provider differs from this convention. In short, everything reported on a cost report or Provider Statistical and Reimbursement report  (PS&R) would fall under Part A for the purpose of this funding. 
 
When funding is approved, the requested amount is compared to a database with amounts calculated by Medicare and provides funding at the lessor of the two amounts. The current form allows the provider to request the maximum payment amount as calculated by CMS or a lesser specified amount.
 
A representative from National Government Services indicated the preference was to receive one request for Part A per hospital. The form provides for attachment of a listing of multiple PTAN and NPI numbers that fall under the organization.

Interest after recoupment period:
On Monday, April 6, 2020, the American Hospital Association (AHA) wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and CMS requesting the interest rate applied to the repayment of the accelerated/advanced payments be waived or substantially reduced. AHA received clarification from CMS that any remaining balance at the end of the recoupment period is subject to interest. Currently that interest rate is set at 10.25% or the “prevailing rate set by the Treasury Department”. Without relief from CMS, interest will accrue as of the 31st day after the hospital has received a demand letter for the repayment of the remaining balance. The hospital does have 30 days to pay the balance without incurring interest.  

We are here to help
If you have questions or need more information about your specific situation, please contact the hospital consulting team. We’re here to help.

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Medicare Accelerated Payment Program

This article is the first in a series to help employee benefit plan fiduciaries better understand their responsibilities and manage the risks of non-compliance with ERISA requirements.

On Labor Day, 1974, President Gerald Ford signed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, commonly known as ERISA, into law. Prior to ERISA, employee pensions had scant protections under the law, a problem made clear when the Studebaker automobile company closed its South Bend, Indiana production plant in 1963. Upon the plant’s closing, some 4,000 employees—whose average age was 52 and average length of service with the company was 23 years—received approximately 15 cents for each dollar of benefit they were owed. Nearly 3,000 additional employees, all of whom had less than 10 years of service with the company, received nothing.

A decade later, ERISA established statutory requirements to preserve and protect the rights of employees to their pensions upon retirement. Among other things, ERISA defines what a plan fiduciary is and sets standards for their conduct.

Who is—and who isn’t—a plan fiduciary?
ERISA defines a fiduciary as a person who:

  1. Exercises discretionary authority or control over the management of an employee benefit plan or the disposition of its assets,
  2. Gives investment advice about plan funds or property for a fee or compensation or has the authority to do so,
  3. Has discretionary authority or responsibility in plan administration, or
  4. Is designated by a named fiduciary to carry out fiduciary responsibility. (ERISA requires the naming of one or more fiduciaries to be responsible for managing the plan's administration, usually a plan administrator or administrative committee, though the plan administrator may engage others to perform some administrative duties).

If you’re still unsure about exactly who is and isn’t a plan fiduciary, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Disagreements over whether or not a person acting in a certain capacity and in a specific situation is a fiduciary have sometimes required legal proceedings to resolve them. Here are some real-world examples.

Employers who maintain employee benefit plans are typically considered fiduciaries by virtue of being named fiduciaries or by acting as a functional fiduciary. Accordingly, employer decisions on how to execute the intent of the plan are subject to ERISA’s fiduciary standards.

Similarly, based on case law, lawyers and consultants who effectually manage an employee benefit plan are also generally considered fiduciaries.

A person or company that performs purely administrative duties within the framework, rules, and procedures established by others is not a fiduciary. Examples of such duties include collecting contributions, maintaining participants' service and employment records, calculating benefits, processing claims, and preparing government reports and employee communications.

What are a fiduciary’s responsibilities?
ERISA requires fiduciaries to discharge their duties solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries, and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits for them and defraying reasonable plan administrative expenses. Specifically, fiduciaries must perform their duties as follows:

  1. With the care, skill, prudence, and diligence of a prudent person under the circumstances;
  2. In accordance with plan documents and instruments, insofar as they are consistent with the provisions of ERISA; and
  3. By diversifying plan investments so as to minimize risk of loss under the circumstances, unless it is clearly prudent not to do so.

A fiduciary is personally liable to the plan for losses resulting from a breach of their fiduciary responsibility, and must restore to the plan any profits realized on misuse of plan assets. Not only is a fiduciary liable for their own breaches, but also if they have knowledge of another fiduciary's breach and either conceals it or does not make reasonable efforts to remedy it.

ERISA provides for a mandatory civil penalty against a fiduciary who breaches a fiduciary responsibility under ERISA or commits a violation, or against any other person who knowingly participates in such breach or violation. That penalty is equal to 20 percent of the "applicable recovery amount" paid pursuant to any settlement agreement with ERISA or ordered by a court to be paid in a judicial proceeding instituted by ERISA.

ERISA also permits a civil action to be brought by a participant, beneficiary, or other fiduciary against a fiduciary for a breach of duty. ERISA allows participants to bring suit to recover losses from fiduciary breaches that impair the value of the plan assets held in their individual accounts, even if the financial solvency of the entire plan is not threatened by the alleged fiduciary breach. Courts may require other appropriate relief, including removal of the fiduciary.

Over the coming months, we’ll share a series of blogs for employee benefit plan fiduciaries, covering everything from common terminology to best practices for plan documentation, suggestions for navigating fiduciary risks, and more.

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What's in a name? A lot, if you manage a benefit plan.

Read this if you work at a renewable energy company, developer, or other related business. 

When entering into agreements involving tangible long-lived assets, an asset retirement obligation can arise in the form of a legal obligation to retire the asset(s) at a certain date. In the alternative/renewable energy industry, these frequently present themselves in leases for property on which equipment (i.e., solar panels) is placed. In the leases there may be a requirement, for example, that at the conclusion of the lease, the lessee remove the equipment and return to the property to its original condition.

When an asset retirement obligation is present in a contract, a company should record the liability when it has been incurred (usually in the same period the asset is installed or placed in service) and can be reasonably estimated. The fair value of the liability, typically calculated using a present value technique, is recorded along with a corresponding increase to the basis of the asset to be retired. Subsequent to the initial recognition, the liability is accreted annually up to its future value, and the asset, including the increase for the asset retirement obligation, is depreciated over its useful life.

As a company gets closer to the date the obligation is realized, the estimate of the obligation will most likely become more accurate. When revisions to the estimate are determined, the liability should be adjusted in that period.

It is important to note that this accounting does not have any income tax implications, including any potential increase to the investment tax credit (ITC).

These obligations are estimates and should be developed by your management through collaboration with companies or individuals that have performed similar projects and have insight as to the expected cost. While this is an estimate and not a perfect science, it is important information to share with investors and work into cash flow models for the project, as the cost of removing such equipment can be significant. 

Recording the liability on the balance sheet is a good reminder of the approximate cash outflow that will take place in the final year of the lease. If you have any questions or would like to discuss with us, contact a member of the renewable energy team. We’re here to help.

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Asset retirement obligations in alternative/renewable energy

Read this if your agency is involved with COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

Although states have already created COVID-19 vaccination plans, your state can still implement critical strategies to improve your distribution plan. In October 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released the Interim Playbook version 2.0, providing a key framework for states and jurisdictions to build their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans. The federal government asked that immunization programs in each state plans based on this model. The Playbook contains 15 sections of planning elements for states to consider in the development of their plan. Completing a plan of this extent while simultaneously trying to manage the pandemic has led some states to leave out or not thoroughly address critical components in their plans. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analyzed and collected common themes from each of the 47 state vaccination plans. Their analysis identified areas of weakness in the following areas of each plan: 

  • Priority populations for vaccinations in states 
  • Identifying networks of providers 
  • Developing data collection and reporting
  • Forming communication strategies

Each of the four areas each contained multiple findings, but since the vaccine has already started to roll out, some aspects of the plan cannot be revised. However, it is not too late to improve upon certain elements, especially for data collection and reporting, as well as communication strategies. 

The following recommendations for improvement of state plans are based on the findings from the KFF State COVID-19 vaccine distribution analysis report

States should identify a clear data reporting and collection plan that accounts for the COVID-19-specific data requirements.

According to KFF, an immunization registry or database has been included in 53% of the state COVID-19 plans; in the others it was an unclear component of the plan. The data collection process for COVID-19 vaccinations will be complex and unique due to a number of factors including the nature of a phased rollout, new provider enrollment and onboarding, storage requirements, multiple vaccines and doses, and off-site vaccination locations

Since a little over half of all states have arranged for either new systems or are developing or adding features to current immunization registries, states that are lacking a comprehensive approach could benefit from adopting elements present in the other plans. For example, some states detail how their current immunization system is being utilized for the COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to upgrading certain features in order to meet the anticipated increase in demand. 

Other states have also described their transition to the Immunization Gateway, a centralized technical infrastructure sponsored by the CDC Immunization Information Systems Support Branch, and led by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Chief Technology Officer. The Gateway is securely hosted through the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). States can review the data collection and reporting sections of other states’ plans to gain a greater understanding of how their plan can be improved by describing data reporting and collection processes.   

States should address racial and ethnic disparities in vaccine distribution and acceptance through targeted and evidence-based communication strategies. 

The KFF analysis of state COVID-19 plans indicated about 49% of state plans include specific mention of racial or ethnic minority populations in regards to communication. Communication plans need to include targeted strategies as minority populations and people of color have shown greater hesitation in receiving the vaccine, even if it is free and determined safe by scientists and federal authorities. The virus has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and minority populations, and a lack of communication to these populations may continue to enhance these disparate health outcomes.

One way to improve a communication plan by addressing racial or ethnic minority populations would be by incorporating the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS), specifically the standards for Communication and Language Assistance:

  • Offer language assistance to individuals who have limited English proficiency and/or other communication needs, at no cost to them, to facilitate timely access to all health care and services
  • Inform all individuals of the availability of language assistance services clearly and in their preferred language, verbally and in writing
  • Ensure the competence of individuals providing language assistance, recognizing that the use of untrained individuals and/or minors as interpreters should be avoided
  • Provide easy-to-understand print and multimedia materials and signage in the languages commonly used by the populations in the service area

A communication plan that considers the racial and ethnic minority populations most vulnerable to adverse health outcomes and have shown a lack of trust in the scientific community would be advisable in order to combat disproportionate negative outcomes from the COVID-19 virus in the future. 

A COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan is an important aspect of each state’s strategy to control the spread of the virus. In order to lead to effective vaccine distribution, it is vital for the plans to thoroughly address data collection, reporting, and tracking. It is also important to consider implementing a communication plan that incorporates strategies to reach racial and ethnic minority groups who might have been disproportionality impacted by COVID-19 as a way to improve your state’s health equity approach to COVID-19 vaccination efforts. By implementing these considerations, your state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan could become more effective in improving the health outcomes of your population. 

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Two ways states can improve their COVID-19 vaccination distribution plans