AOA boosts support for optometrists rocked by Change Healthcare cyberattack

March 21, 2024
In light of the recent cyberattack and its national impact on health care, Optometry Cares® —The AOA Foundation announces immediate financial relief. Learn how to apply for a grant.
Cyber Attack Graphic of ones and zeros

One month after a massive cyberattack on the health care system, the AOA isn’t slowing down its drive to support doctors of optometry struggling to receive funds from processed claims. It is extending a new form of relief and carrying calls for support even further. 

In late February, Change Healthcare, a unit of UnitedHealth Group (UHG), sustained an unprecedented cybersecurity incident that impacted care operations across the country. While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made clear its expectation that UHG do everything in its power to ensure continuity of operations for all impacted providers, it also announced immediate steps that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will take to assist providers in serving patients. 

Since the incident on Feb. 21, reports suggest the disruption is costing health providers as much as $1 billion a day and affects the third-party payment systems that almost half of U.S. health care relies upon. 

In ongoing efforts to bring relief to providers shook by the attack, the AOA is calling on the National Governor’s Association and its member governors to issue interim payments to impacted doctors and to ensure that practices can continue providing needed care to Americans across the country. 

Furthermore, Optometry Cares® —The AOA Foundation has announced that Optometry’s Fund for Disaster Relief (OFDR) will recognize the cybersecurity attack as an eligible disaster, according to its current criteria. Grants of up to $4,000 will be awarded through this initiative to AOA members and up to $1,000 for nonmember doctors of optometry. 

“We hope this recognition addresses the needs of our AOA members as they maneuver this crisis,” says Belinda R. Starkey, O.D., Optometry Cares president and AOA trustee.  

Since its inception in 2005, OFDR has been a vital resource for doctors of optometry facing emergencies, ensuring continuity of patient care during times of crisis. Whether responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or the Hawaii wildfires of last year, Optometry Cares has consistently rallied to provide assistance to the optometric community.     

“In 2024, widespread disaster can impact communities and health care providers in ways we could not have imagined,” Dr. Starkey adds. “We owe a debt of gratitude to our dedicated individual supporters and industry partners whose contributions have enabled OFDR to fulfill its mission. Now, as we confront the challenges posed by cybersecurity threats, OFDR stands ready to support our optometric community once again.” 

Learn more and apply for aid. 

HHS, CMS announce CHOPD accelerated payments; AOA encourages further action   

On March 7, the AOA requested HHS guide physician practices on appropriate next steps, ensure practices are supported to continue providing care and ensure information from Change Healthcare is provided to the entire health community as the situation evolves.  

Those calls were met with some federal relief: on March 9, HHS and CMS made available Change Healthcare/Optum Payment Disruption (CHOPD) accelerated payments to Part A providers and advance payments to Part B suppliers experiencing claims disruptions from the incident. CMS encouraged Medicare Advantage organizations to offer advance funding to providers affected by the cyberattack, but still encouraged providers to work with their liability insurers to determine whether coverage for this disruption is available. 

Learn more about CHOPD accelerated payments eligibility. 

Helpful resources for AOA members 

HHS states that providers should continue to work with all their payers for the latest updates on how to receive timely payments. Additionally, the AOA shares the following resources and information that may be helpful to AOA members: 

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