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ABN Notice and Delivery

The purpose of the ABN is to inform a Medicare beneficiary, before he or she receives specified items or services that otherwise might be paid for, that Medicare certainly or probably will not pay for them on that particular occasion. The ABN, also, allows the beneficiary to make an informed consumer decision whether or not to receive the items or services for which he or she may have to pay out of pocket or through other insurance.

Proper Notice Requirements

When, for a particular purpose, an approved standard form (e.g., Form CMS-R-131, Form CMS-R-296) exists, it constitutes the proper notice document. Notices not using a mandatory standard notice form may be ruled defective. In the absence of such a standard form, approved model notice language constitutes the proper notice document. A notifier’s unapproved modification of either a standard form or model notice language may render that notice defective.

Readability Requirements

Both the originals and copies of ABNs must meet the following conditions to facilitate beneficiary understanding:

    • Do not use italics, nor any font that is difficult to read, nor reversed print (e.g., white on black). Examples of easily readable fonts include, but are not limited to, Arial, Arial Narrow, Times Roman, Courier. On standard forms, the published fonts may not be changed to any other font;
    • Use at least a 12 point font size;
    • Use a visually high-contrast combination of dark ink on a pale background.
    • Do not block-shade (“highlight”) notice text; and
    • Insertions in forms’ blanks, if any, must be typed, printed, or legibly handwritten.

Specificity, Delivery, and Receipt

An ABN must:

    • Be written in lay language;
    • Cite the particular items or services for which payment will be or is likely to be denied;
    • Cite the notifier’s reasons for believing Medicare payment will be or is likely to be denied;
    • Be delivered by a qualified notifier to the beneficiary (or to the beneficiary’s authorized representative), before those items or services were furnished; and
    • Be received by, and its contents must be comprehended by, the beneficiary (or authorized representative).

Defective Notice

An ABN is not acceptable evidence if:

    • The notice is unreadable, illegible, or otherwise incomprehensible, or the individual beneficiary (or authorized representative) is incapable of understanding the notice due to the particular circumstances (even if others may understand);
    • The notice is given during any emergency, or the beneficiary is under great duress, or the beneficiary (or authorized representative) is, in any way, coerced or misled by the notifier, by the contents of the notice, and/or by the manner of delivery of the notice;
    • The notifier routinely gives this notice to all beneficiaries for whom the notifier furnishes items or services;
    • The notice is no more than a statement to the effect that there is a possibility that Medicare may not pay for the items or services; or
    • The notice was delivered to the beneficiary (or authorized representative) more than one year before the items or services are furnished.


A beneficiary must be notified far enough in advance of an event about which a decision must be made by the beneficiary (e.g., receiving a medical service) so that the beneficiary can make a rational, informed consumer decision without undue pressure. Last minute notification can be coercive, and a coercive notice is a defective notice. ABN delivery should take place before a procedure is initiated and before physical preparation of the patient (e.g., disrobing, placement in or attachment of diagnostic or treatment equipment) begins.

Effective Delivery

Delivery of a notice occurs when the beneficiary (or authorized representative) both has received the notice and can comprehend its contents.

Basic Delivery Requirements

The notifier should hand-deliver the ABN to the beneficiary or authorized representative. (Where hand-delivery is impossible, e.g., in furnishing items and services by telephone order, mail order, over the internet, etc., ABNs still need to be executed in advance of furnishing the item or service, e.g., by mail, fax, using an online form) Delivery is the notifier’s responsibility. The contractor will consider delivery of an ABN by a notifier’s staff or employees to be delivery by the notifier. If the beneficiary alleges non-receipt of notice and the notifier cannot show that notice was received by the beneficiary, the contractor will not find that the beneficiary knew or could reasonably have been expected to know that Medicare would not pay; i.e., it will hold the notifier liable and the beneficiary not liable.

The ABN must be prepared with an original and at least one copy. The notifier must retain the original and give the copy to the beneficiary or authorized representative. (In a case where the notifier that gives an ABN is not the entity which ultimately bills Medicare for the item or service, e.g., when a physician draws a test specimen and sends it to a laboratory for testing, the notifier should give a copy of the signed ABN to the entity which ultimately bills Medicare.) The copy is given to the beneficiary immediately after the beneficiary signs it. Legible duplicates (carbons, etc.), fax copies, electronically scanned copies, or photocopies will suffice. This is a fraud and abuse prevention measure. If a beneficiary is not given a copy of the ABN and if the beneficiary later alleges that the ABN presented to the contractor by the notifier is different in any material respect from the ABN he/she signed, the contractor will give credence to the beneficiary’s allegations.

Telephone Notice

The contractor will not consider a telephone notice to a beneficiary, or authorized representative, to be sufficient evidence of proper notice for limiting any potential liability, unless the content of the telephone contact can be verified and is not disputed by the beneficiary. If a telephone notice was followed up immediately with a mailed notice or a personal visit at which written notice was delivered in person and the beneficiary signed the written notice accepting responsibility for payment, the contractor will accept the time of the telephone notice as the time of ABN delivery.

Capable Recipient

The contractor will not consider delivery of a notice to be properly done unless the beneficiary, or authorized representative, was able to comprehend the notice (i.e., they were capable of receiving notice). A comatose person, a confused person (e.g., someone who is experiencing confusion due to senility, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease), a legally incompetent person, a person under great duress (for example, in a medical emergency) is not able to understand and act on his/her rights, therefore necessitating the presence of an authorized representative for purposes of notice. A person who does not read the language in which the notice is written, a person who is not able to read at all or who is functionally illiterate to read any notice, a blind person or otherwise visually impaired person who cannot see the words on the printed page, or a deaf person who cannot hear an oral notice being given by phone, or could not ask questions about the printed word without aid of a translator, is a person for whom receipt of the usual written notice in English may not constitute having received notice at all (this is not an exclusive list). This may be remedied when an authorized representative has no such barrier to receiving notice.

Authorized Representatives

An authorized representative is a person who is acting on the beneficiary’s behalf and in the beneficiary’s best interests, and who does not have a conflict of interests with the beneficiary, when the beneficiary is temporarily or permanently unable to act for himself or herself. A notifier’s inability to give notice to a beneficiary directly or through an authorized representative does not allow the notifier to shift liability to the beneficiary.

An individual authorized under state law to make health care decisions, e.g., a legally appointed representative or guardian of the beneficiary (if, for example, the beneficiary has been legally declared incompetent by a court), or an individual exercising explicit legal authority on the beneficiary’s behalf (e.g., in accordance with a properly executed “durable medical power of attorney” statement or similar document), may be the authorized representative of the beneficiary with respect to receiving notice.

An authorized representative should have the beneficiary’s best interests at heart and should be reasonably expected to act in a manner which is protective of the person and the rights of the beneficiary. In the absence of some more compelling consideration, the order of priority of authorized representatives is:

    • The spouse, unless legally separated.
    • An adult child.
    • A parent.
    • An adult sibling.
    • A close friend (defined as “an adult who has exhibited special care and concern for the patient, who is familiar with the patient’s personal values, and who is reasonably available”).

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