HCFA gets a new name as feds attempt to improve it

Agency split into three new business centers

It’s not your same HCFA anymore. In June, Bush administration officials began their first efforts to restructure the agency formerly known as the Health Care Financing Administration. The agency badly needs reorganization, says new administrator Thomas Scully, former president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals. Scully was sworn in on May 29. "Medicare is a structural mess," Scully said in a public statement.

In early June, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced the cross-departmental Task Force on Regulatory Reform. This effort aims to eliminate unnecessary burdens and duplicative paperwork caused by federal regulations that impede patient care.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) in Chicago applauded the initiative. "Secretary Thompson has thrown a lifeline to the nurses, doctors, and others across this country who are drowning in a sea of paperwork," says AHA president Dick Davidson.

On June 14, Thompson announced a new name and structure for HCFA. The name, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), better reflects the mission of the agency, as well as a renewed commitment to be more responsive to health care consumers and providers, he says. He also announced that the agency is being split into three new business centers:

Center for Beneficiary Choices.

This center focuses on beneficiary education, providing beneficiaries with the information they need to make their health care decisions. The center also includes management of the Medicare+Choice program, consumer research and demonstrations, and grievance and appeals.

Center for Medicare Management.

This center focuses on the management of the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program, including development and implementation of payment policy and management of Medicare carriers and fiscal intermediaries.

Center for Medicaid and State Operations.

This center focuses on programs administered by the states, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, private insurance, survey and certification, and the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments.

New responsiveness?

Responsiveness is the restructured agency’s No. 1 priority, Thompson and Scully said in statements before the Senate Finance Committee in June, as reported by AHA News. Thompson pledged to clear all backlogged correspondence to the agency by July 1 and promised a 15-business-day turnaround on all future responses.

Each specific provider group will have a senior CMS staff member as a contact person, Thompson added. CMS also plans to launch a $35 million national media campaign in the fall to highlight the health care options available to seniors.