CMS has just released a proposed rule that would require Medicare prior authorization (PA) for certain Medicare Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS) items that the agency characterizes as “frequently subject to unnecessary utilization.“ As part of the rulemaking, CMS has developed a “Master List” of initial items that it considers to meet this standard based on being (1) identified in a GAO or HHS OIG national report published in 2007 or later as having a high rate of fraud or unnecessary utilization; or (2) listed in the 2011 or later Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program's Annual Medicare FFS Improper Payment Rate Report DME Service Specific Overpayment Rate Appendix. CMS also proposes limiting the items on the Master List to those with an average purchase fee of at least $1,000 or an average rental fee schedule of at least $100 to allow CMS to focus on items with the largest potential savings for the Medicare Trust Fund. CMS proposes that the Master List will be “self-updating” annually, and that items generally will remain on the list for 10 years. Note, however, that presence on the Master List would not automatically require prior authorization. CMS would limit the PA requirement to a subset of items (called the “Required Prior Authorization List") “to balance minimizing provider and supplier burden with our need to protect the Trust Funds." CMS would publish the Required Prior Authorization List in the Federal Register with 60-day notice before implementation. CMS also proposes that the PA program could be implemented nationally or locally. The proposed rule does not announce the first items on the Required Prior Authorization List. Instead, CMS is seeking public comment on the number of items that should be selected initially and in the future, and the frequency with which CMS should select items.

The proposed PA process would not create new clinical documentation requirements for the selected DMEPOS items. Instead, the same information necessary now to support Medicare payment for the item would be submitted to the contractor, but before the item could be furnished to the beneficiary and before the claim could be submitted for payment. Upon receipt of a PA request, CMS or its contractors would determine whether the item complies with applicable coverage, coding, and payment rules, and then communicate a decision that provisionally affirms or non-affirms the request. CMS or its contractors would “make reasonable efforts” to provide a decision within 10 days of receipt of all applicable information, unless this timeline could “seriously jeopardize the life or health of the beneficiary,” in which case the target review period would be 2 business days.

The proposed rule also discusses, among other things: the process for updating the Master List; liability for an item on the Required Prior Authorization List if authorization is submitted and denied, the opportunity for unlimited PA resubmissions, and applicability to competitive bidding areas. The rule also would add a contractor's decision regarding prior authorization of coverage of DMEPOS items to the list of actions that are not initial determinations and therefore not appealable.  The official version will be published on May 28, 2014. CMS will accept comments on the proposed rule until July 28, 2014.

In a related development, CMS has announced that it is expanding its current demonstration for prior authorization for power mobility devices to 12 additional states. CMS also will launch two payment model demonstrations to test prior authorization for hyperbaric oxygen therapy and repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transport; information from these models will inform future CMS policy decisions on the use of prior authorization.