Focus on keeping your vision clear

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can cause permanent vision loss and blindness. Some forms of glaucoma don’t have any symptoms, so you may still have glaucoma even if you don’t have any trouble seeing or feel any pain. If you find and get treatment for glaucoma early, you can protect your eyes from serious vision loss.

January is glaucoma awareness month, and it’s the perfect time to check and see if you’re at high risk. You’re at high risk for glaucoma if one or more of these applies to you:

  • You have diabetes.
  • You have a family history of glaucoma.
  • You’re African American and 50 or older.
  • You’re Hispanic and 65 or older.

Medicare will cover a glaucoma test once every 12 months if you’re at high risk. Talk to your doctor or eye doctor for more information about scheduling a test.

To learn more,

Find cervical cancer early—get screened

Over 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Early treatment is key, and fortunately, it’s one of the easiest female cancers to detect.

Medicare covers Pap tests, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) tests (as part of Pap tests), and pelvic exams that can help find cervical and vaginal cancer early and improve recovery and survival rates. Pap tests are covered every 24 months for all women, and every 12 months if you’re at high risk. Medicare covers HPV tests once every 5 years if you’re 30–65 without HPV symptoms.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, so it’s the perfect time to get screened. Watch our

Stop the flu before it stops you

Flu season is back, which means it’s time to protect yourself and loved ones by getting a free flu shot.

Flu viruses change from year to year, so it’s important to get a flu shot each flu season. It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season when you get it by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.

Wear your red ribbon – Support World AIDS Day

Did you know that 40,000 people are diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. each year? Of the 1.1 million people currently living with HIV in the U.S., 1 in 7 don’t even know they have it. Medicare covers HIV screenings for people with Medicare 15-65 years old who ask for the test, people younger than 15 or older than 65 who are at increased risk, and pregnant women.

HIV is the virus that can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Early testing and diagnosis play key roles in reducing the spread of the disease, extending life expectancy, and cutting costs of care. Thanks to better treatments, many people with HIV and AIDS in the U.S. are living longer. Testing is an important first step in getting HIV-infected people the medical care and support they need to improve their health and help them maintain safer behaviors. To learn more about how you can reduce your risk of HIV, check out the CDC’s HIV Risk Reduction Tool.

Visit CDC.gov to learn more about their Act Against AIDS campaign. To find an HIV test site, visit Gettested.cdc.gov, or text your zip code to “KNOWIT” (566948).

December 1st is World AIDS Day, so wear your red ribbon and together we can raise awareness and fight HIV.

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CMS releases its Measures Under Consideration List for 2018 pre-rulemaking

By: Kate Goodrich, M.D., M.H.S., Director, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality, CMS Chief Medical Officer

Medicare and other payers are rapidly moving toward a healthcare system that rewards high quality care while spending more wisely. Foundational to the success of these efforts is having quality measures that are meaningful to patients, consumers, and providers alike. CMS recently announced the “Meaningful Measures” initiative to identify the most impactful areas for quality measurement and improvement and reflect core issues that are most vital to high quality care and better individual outcomes. Each year, CMS publishes a list of quality and cost measures that are under consideration for Medicare quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs, and collaborates with the National Quality Forum (NQF) to get critical input from multiple stakeholders, including patients, families, caregivers, clinicians, commercial payers and purchasers, on the measures that are best suited for these programs. Ultimately, these measures may help patients choose the nursing home, hospital, or clinician that is best for them, and can help providers to provide the highest quality of care across care settings.

I am happy to announce that CMS posted the Measures under Consideration (MUC) List for 2018 pre-rulemaking on the CMS website and has sent it to NQF in preparation for multi-stakeholder input.

This year’s MUC List contains 32 measures that have the potential to drive improvement in quality across numerous settings of care, including clinician practices, hospitals, and dialysis facilities. CMS is considering new measures to help quantify healthcare outcomes and track the effectiveness, safety and patient-centeredness of the care provided. At the same time, CMS is taking a new approach to coordinated implementation of meaningful quality measures focused on the most critical, highly impactful areas for improvement while reducing the burden of quality reporting on all providers so they can spend more time with their patients. In addition to other factors, CMS evaluated the measures on the MUC list to ensure that measures considered for adoption in a CMS program through rulemaking as necessary, focus on clearly defined, meaningful measure priority areas that safeguard public health and improve patient outcomes. For example, to generate this year’s MUC list, CMS considered 184 measures submitted by stakeholders during an open call for measures. Considering the meaningful measurement areas, CMS narrowed the list to 32 measures (17% of the original submissions) which focus CMS efforts to achieve goals of high quality healthcare and meaningful outcomes for patients, while minimizing burden. CMS will continue to use the Meaningful Measures approach to strategically assess the development and implementation of quality measure sets that are the most parsimonious and least burdensome, that are well understood by external stakeholders, and are most likely to drive improvement in health outcomes.

This year, approximately 40% of measures on the MUC list are outcome measures, including patient-reported outcome measures, which will help empower patients to make decisions about their own healthcare and help clinicians to make continuous improvements in the care provided. In addition, this year there are eight episode-based cost measures proposed that were developed by incorporating the insight and expertise of clinicians and specialty societies. CMS is committed to working with clinicians, consumers, and other stakeholders on the development and use of measures that are most meaningful to patients and clinicians and our programs.

We invite you to review the MUC List in detail and to participate in the public process. We believe it is critical to hear a wide range of voices in the selection of quality and efficiency measures that are used for accountability and transparency purposes and look forward to another successful pre-rulemaking season. For more information regarding the NQF Measure Applications Partnership public stakeholder review meeting purpose, meetings, 2017 MUC List deliberations and voting, visit the NQF website at

Make life easier: set up automatic premium payments

Most Medicare Prescription Drug Plans charge a monthly fee that varies by plan. This fee is called a premium. You pay this in addition to the Medicare Part B premium. Did you know that you can have this premium automatically deducted from your monthly Social Security payment? Get peace of mind knowing that bills are paid on time each month.

All you need to do is contact your Medicare Part D drug plan (not Social Security). Your first deduction will usually take 3 months to start, and 3 months of premiums will likely be deducted at once so make sure you have enough in your Social Security payment to cover this. After that, only one premium will be deducted each month. You may also see a delay in premiums being withheld if you switch plans. If you want to stop premium deductions and get billed directly, just let your Medicare drug plan know.

Take the worry and guesswork out of when to pay your premium bills, and contact your drug plan today. Rest assured knowing that your payments will be deducted as scheduled—on time, every time.

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CMS announces a new user-centered resource to help improve alignment: the CMS Measures Inventory Tool (CMIT)

By Kate Goodrich, MD
Director, CMS Center for Clinical Standards and Quality & CMS Chief Medical Officer

CMS is actively working to move the needle on improving quality in healthcare without additional burden to those providers on the frontlines. CMS recently launched a new initiative, ‘Meaningful Measures,’ which will streamline current measure sets – so providers can focus on the measures that are most impactful – and will move from process measures to outcome measures where possible. A great deal of attention has also been focused on alignment of quality measures within CMS and with commercial payers, and we are committed to working towards alignment of these measures to ensure delivery of high quality care to all Americans while minimizing burden on providers.

I am pleased to announce that CMS is deploying an innovative tool that provides all stakeholders improved visibility into the portfolio of CMS measures. The CMS Measures Inventory Tool (CMIT), an interactive web-based application that contains the same information that is currently included on the Excel spreadsheet, provides a comprehensive list of measures that are currently under development, implemented for use, and have been removed from a CMS quality program or initiative. The intuitive and user-friendly functions allow you to find measures quickly and to compile and refine sets of related measures. The tool increases transparency and can be used to identify measures across the continuum of care and will help coordinate measurement efforts across all conditions, settings, and populations. We have expanded the information contained in the inventory to better answer questions we have heard from the public; the CMIT lists each measure by program, dates of measure consideration and implementation, and measure specifications including, but not limited to, numerator, denominator, exclusion criteria, measure type, and National Quality Forum (NQF) endorsement status.

CMIT is an innovative approach that will help to promote the goal of increased alignment across programs and with other payers. We believe it is an easy to use valuable resource to various stakeholders, including commercial payers, clinicians, patients and measure developers.

For more information about CMIT and to access the tool, please visit the CMS.gov website.

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Administrator’s Blog: National Rural Health Day (November 16, 2017)

November 16, 2017

By: Seema Verma, CMS Administrator @SeemaCMS

Today, CMS is celebrating National Rural Health Day by commemorating our partners who provide quality care to the nearly one in five Americans who reside in rural communities. CMS recognizes the unique challenges facing rural America, and we are taking action to improve access and quality for healthcare providers serving rural patients.

This fall, I have been visiting communities throughout the country to learn more about issues critical to improving access to rural healthcare. I travelled to Kansas City and visited the headquarters of the National Rural Health Association to talk with key leadership and stakeholders to hear how CMS can reduce the challenges rural communities face. CMS is committed to evaluating our policies and looking at each of them through a rural lens to ensure rural providers greater flexibility and less regulatory burden.

New technologies are emerging that have strong promise to address access issues in rural communities. CMS is trying to modernize the Medicare program so that beneficiaries can make use of the new technology. For example, CMS recently released new telehealth payment codes in Medicare so more services can be accessed in rural areas. This is only the beginning of our overall strategy to update our programs and improve access to high quality services.

Rural hospitals also face challenges in recruiting physicians. CMS is addressing this challenge by placing a two-year moratorium on the direct supervision requirement for outpatient therapeutic services at Critical Access Hospitals and small rural hospitals. This policy helps to ensure access to outpatient therapeutic services for Medicare beneficiaries living in rural communities and provides regulatory relief to America’s small rural hospitals. In Medicare Advantage plans, we are working to ensure network standards offer the flexibility needed to provide greater health care plan choices to rural beneficiaries. These reforms are in line with our focus on improving the beneficiary experience.

In response to feedback received from Critical Access Hospitals and other rural stakeholders, CMS recently announced that Critical Access Hospitals should no longer expect to receive medical record reviews related to the 96-hour certification requirement absent concerns of probable fraud, waste, or abuse.

We are also now providing technical assistance and greater flexibilities to small and rural clinicians to help facilitate their participation in the Quality Payment Program (QPP). These efforts are aligned with our goal of reducing regulatory burden so clinicians are able to spend more time on patient care and healthier outcomes, and less time on paperwork. One way we have done this is to provide free and customized technical assistance to support small and rural clinicians every step of the way, as well as assistance through our Service Center, Regional Offices, and the QPP page on cms.gov.

We have finalized several policies to reduce burdens and help clinicians in small practices successfully participate in the QPP program. Some of these include:

  • Increasing the “low volume threshold,” which is the maximum amount of Medicare revenue and the maximum number of Medicare patients that a clinician can have while being excluded from the new requirements, to exclude more small practices from QPP.
  • Adding an option for clinicians to come together in “virtual groups” to report data together and share the burden of meeting the new requirements.
  • Continuing to award small practices a minimum of three points for quality measures, recognizing that small practices may not be able to pull together the amount of data as easily as large practices.
  • Providing small practices with a new hardship exception to some of the EHR reporting requirements.
  • Adding five bonus points to the final performance score for small practices.

In our effort to consider a new direction that promotes patient-centered care and test market-driven reforms, the CMS Innovation Center is currently seeking suggestions on improving rural healthcare by way of a recently released Request for Information (RFI). The opportunity to provide recommendations for the new direction closes November 20 and if you have not already, we hope you will share your thoughts.

CMS has also developed a number of resources to help rural providers and other stakeholders. To improve the customer experience and further empower our rural providers, we are centralizing rural healthcare resources into a single website which you can find here.

And finally, CMS does not operate in a vacuum. We work closely with other federal partners including the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Office of the National Coordinator, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, to ensure our efforts to improve care in rural America are consistent with those agencies’ rural initiatives. CMS will continue to listen to, work with, and value the input from rural stakeholders. Together, we can improve care in rural America. Happy National Rural Health Day!

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It’s always time to quit tobacco

Smoking tobacco can cause many health problems, including heart disease, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer —the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Close to 40 million people in the U.S. still smoke tobacco, but quitting can help prevent these health problems. You can quit smoking today, and Medicare wants to help.

Besides being famous for Thanksgiving, November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the Great American Smokeout. While you’re making lists for the upcoming holiday season, make a note to talk with your doctor about quitting if you smoke. Medicare covers 8 face-to-face smoking cessation counseling sessions during a 12-month period. If you haven’t been diagnosed with an illness caused or complicated by tobacco use, you pay nothing for these counseling sessions, as long as you get them from a qualified doctor or another Medicare provider.

Every year, more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer and smoking is the leading cause. Don’t become a statistic. Watch our video to learn more about Medicare’s benefits to help you quit.

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CMS’s 2017 Medicare Fee-For-Service improper payment rate is below 10 percent for the first time since 2013  

CMS Blog
https://blog.cms.gov/2017/11/15/cmss-2017-medicare-fee-for-service-improper-payment-rate-is-below-10-percent

November 15, 2017
By Kimberly Brandt, Principal Deputy Administrator for Operations (@cms.hhs.gov)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is committed to reducing improper payments in all of its programs, as evidenced by improper payment reduction efforts contained in the Fiscal Year 2018 President’s Budget. CMS’s new leadership is re-examining existing corrective actions and exploring new and innovative approaches to reducing improper payments, while minimizing burden for its partners. Due to the successes of actions we’ve put into place to reduce improper payments, the Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) improper payment rate decreased from 11.0 percent in 2016 to 9.5 percent in 2017, representing a $4.9 billion decrease in estimated improper payments. The 2017 Medicare FFS estimated improper payment rate represents claims incorrectly paid between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016. This is the first time since 2013 that the Medicare FFS improper payment rate is below the 10 percent threshold for compliance established in the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2010.

Improper payments are not always indicative of fraud, nor do they necessarily represent expenses that should not have occurred. For example, instances where there is insufficient or no documentation to support the payment as proper are cited as improper payments under current Office of Management and Budget guidance. The majority of Medicare FFS improper payments are due to documentation errors where CMS could not determine whether the billed items or services were actually provided, were billed at the appropriate level, and/or were medically necessary. A smaller proportion of Medicare FFS improper payments are payments for claims CMS determined should not have been made or should have been made in a different amount, representing a known monetary loss to the program.

Figure 1 provides information on Medicare FFS improper payments that are a known “monetary loss” to the program (i.e. medical necessity, incorrect coding, and other errors). The estimated known “monetary loss” improper payment rate is 3.0 percent, representing an estimated known monetary loss of $11.3 billion out of the total estimated improper payments of $36.2 billion. In the figure, “unknown” represents payments where there was no or insufficient documentation to support the payment as proper or a known monetary loss. In other words, when payments lack the appropriate supporting documentation, their validity cannot be determined. These are payments where more documentation is needed to determine if the claims were payable or if they should be considered monetary losses to the program.

Figure 1: FY 2017 Medicare FFS Improper Payments (in Millions) and Percentage of Improper Payments by Monetary Loss and Type of Error

CMS continues to implement tools and work with law enforcement partners and other key stakeholders to help focus on prevention, early detection, and data sharing to prevent and reduce improper payments in Medicare FFS. Although documentation errors are the largest cause of improper payments, CMS employs multi-layered efforts to target all root causes of improper payments, with an emphasis on prevention-oriented activities.

CMS is pleased to have achieved this reduction in the improper payment rate, but we still have work to do. We remain committed to collaborating across CMS and with stakeholders to address potential vulnerabilities and continuing to strengthen our program integrity efforts, while minimizing burden for our partners.

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