AOA is closely monitoring developments and actively providing updates regarding COVID-19 for doctors of optometry and patients.
AOA pushing bill to stop pending Medicare payment cuts to doctors of optometry and others during COVID-19
The AOA and other leading physician organizations are pushing legislation that would halt Medicare payment cuts resulting from evaluation and management (E/M) code changes slated for Jan. 1, 2021.
Introduced by Reps. Ami Bera, M.D., D-Calif., and Larry Bucshon, M.D., R-Ind., H.R 8702, the “Holding Providers Harmless from Medicare Cuts During COVID-19 Act of 2020,” would keep payments at 2020 rates for the services in question for two years while the planned E/M payment increases take place. After the two-year pause, the full adjustment would be enacted.
Sen. John Boozman, O.D., R-Ark., introduced a Senate companion bill, S. 5007, co-sponsored by Senators Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., and supported by the AOA.
In a letter to U.S. House members, pushed by AOA, the American Medical Association and others, advocates appeal for stability due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and note a necessity to halt any payment reductions that could inadvertently limit patient access to care or further exacerbate the financial instability of health care providers. Congressional action is needed as previous efforts from AOA and other physician organizations have been ineffective in pushing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to take corrective action on this critical issue.
Doctors of optometry who applied for additional U.S. Department of Health & Human Service (HHS) Provider Relief Funds began receiving payments Dec. 16, stemming from a $24.5 billion Phase 3 General Distribution to over 70,000 U.S. health care providers. The money provided by HHS is a grant, not required to be repaid.
Announced in October, the Phase 3 distribution is intended to satisfy close to 90% of each applicant’s reported lost revenues and net change in expenses caused by COVID-19 in the first half of 2020. Eligible doctors were required to have applied for the Phase 3 funds by early November.
The Provider Relief Funds that doctors received are the result of AOA’s advocacy for optometry’s inclusion in federal crisis relief measures throughout 2020, helping over 21,000 doctors of optometry who bill Medicare receive at least $347 million in grants. Even now, the AOA is working with HHS to receive additional detailed information on the reporting process, as well as ensure optometry’s place in future federal COVID-19 relief measures.
Phase 3 payment distribution began Dec. 16 and will continue through January 2021. Doctors should note that if relief exceeds $10,000, HHS will require doctors to accept the Terms and Conditions, and disclose how funds were spent.
AOA patient care guidance to doctors of optometry on coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, April 24, 2020
As doctors of optometry resume delivery of complete, comprehensive eye health and vision care under a new phase of the nation's continuing COVID-19 pandemic response, the AOA recommends that clinical judgment and practice operations should be informed by the April 19 CMS reopening guidance and the Opening Up America Again plan, as well as all state, state board and local health directives.
The AOA has confirmed the CDC has removed the agency's March 17 nationwide recommendation to postpone routine eye care is no longer in effect, and that CMS's specific guidance on reopening facilities to provide nonemergent and non-COVID-19 health care is in force. Under this framework, state-by-state decisions will guide when and how doctors and practices can resume delivery of complete, comprehensive care. CDC has followed this guidance with a proposed Framework for Healthcare Systems Providing Non-COVID-19 Clinical Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
To assist doctors and their practices, the AOA has posted a guide to practice reactivation and other practice tools and crisis relief resources. In addition, members are urged to submit specific requests and questions to askAOA@aoa.org.
The AOA is closely monitoring developments and will actively provide updates regarding COVID-19 to ensure doctors of optometry and the general public not only understand the risks associated with this pandemic but also have the latest information available for continued patient care. The AOA's priority is to support the health and safety of the public and the optometric community, and will continue to assess the situation and update recommendations accordingly.
The AOA and state associations are working to ensure doctors of optometry will be included among initial COVID-19 vaccinations to health care workers, preserving Americans’ access to eye care.
Experts warn of a “dark winter” ahead as COVID-19 cases mingle with seasonal influenza, prompting appeals for early vaccinations, but lessons from the Southern Hemisphere may brighten forecasts.
The AOA Foundation Recovery Fund will only take applications through Oct. 31 for doctors of optometry unduly affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency.