More providers should be diving into voluntary testing for Payroll-Based Journal reporting, a top Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services official said Thursday.

Long-term care providers are required to start tracking employee hours starting July 1, with Nov. 14 as the first deadline to have submitted data.  Around 10,000 facilities have registered, leaving about 6,000 to go, said Evan Shulman, CMS deputy director in the Division of Nursing Homes, Survey and Certification Group, during this week’s PharMerica Symposium in Dallas.

“We are collecting quarterly the hours that employees are paid to work every day,” he said.

Voluntary reporting will not be used in Five-Star Nursing Home Ratings or enforcement measures, he stressed. While the voluntary reporting period ends at the close of June, facilities can still submit their tests well past July 1.

Shulman said many providers wanted PBJ implementation to be delayed, so CMS created a voluntary reporting period rather than implement the new payroll accountability program starting last fall.

“You can submit what you can: If you can submit one employee in the right format, that’s a win,” he explained. “There are no risks.”

Providers undergoing voluntary testing have said their best practices include submitting biweekly or monthly, after payroll is run, Shulman related.

“We highly recommend submitting multiple times,” he said. “Do not wait for a quarter to end.”

Many questions have come up about staffing agencies and how to report how hours paid, he acknowledged.

“It must be verifiable: Only hours paid can be reported,” he said. “With the cadre of staffing agencies out there, it will be challenging. But there is nothing prohibiting you other than market dynamics to have them send you data in the required format. Other facilities have said they will have staff swipe in and out.”

Some providers noted they were confused about which consultants to include. “For the most part, visits that are billed to Medicare, don’t report,” Shulman explained. “PBJ is looking at the type of services the facility is paying for.”

The agency official wrapped up his talk by acknowledging that CMS and providers don’t always see eye-to-eye, but that didn’t stop him from expressing gratitude.

“You do difficult work. We sincerely thank you for all you do,” he said. “I know it doesn’t always come across that way, but we are all here for the same reasons at the end of the day. I come back to the same question, which is ‘What if it was my mom?’ That’s how we think. And there are 1.35 million moms out there.”