Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, November 4

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, November 4.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

New Federal Vaccination Requirements

CMS has unveiled its new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care providers that receive reimbursement from the federal government.  The highlights include:

  • CMS is requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
  • The staff vaccination requirement applies to the following Medicare and Medicaid-certified provider and supplier types:  ambulatory surgery centers, community mental health centers, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, critical access hospitals, end-stage renal disease facilities, home health agencies, home infusion therapy suppliers, hospices, hospitals, intermediate-care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, clinics, rehabilitation agencies, public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Organizations (PACE), rural health clinics/federally qualified health centers, and long-term care facilities.
  • Facilities covered by this regulation must establish a policy ensuring that all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment, or other services by December 5, 2021.  All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022.  The regulation also provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.
  • The regulation addresses who, among health care facilities’ employees, are subject to this requirement.  These requirements, it notes, must apply to the following facility staff, regardless of clinical responsibility or patient contact and including all current staff as well as any new staff who provide any care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients:  facility employees; licensed practitioners; students, trainees, and volunteers; and individuals who provide care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients under contract or other arrangement.
  • These requirements are not limited to those staff who perform their duties within a formal clinical setting, as many health care staff routinely care for patients and clients outside of such facilities, such as home health, home infusion therapy, hospice, PACE programs, and therapy staff.
  • Further, there may be staff that primarily provide services remotely via telework that occasionally encounter fellow staff, such as in an administrative office or at an off-site staff meeting, who will themselves enter a health care facility or site of care for their job responsibilities.  CMS has concluded that it is necessary to require vaccination for all staff that interact with other staff, patients, residents, clients, or PACE program participants in any location, beyond those who physically enter facilities, clinics, homes, or other sites of care.
  • Transplant centers, psychiatric hospitals, and swing beds are governed by the infection control conditions of participation for hospitals and are thus subject to the staff vaccination requirements issued in this rule.
  • Individuals who provide services 100 percent remotely, such as fully remote telehealth or payroll services, are not subject to the vaccination requirements of this rule.  Providers should identify and monitor these individuals as a part of implementing the policies and procedures of this rule.
  • The rule encompasses administrative staff, facility leadership, volunteer or other fiduciary board members, housekeeping and food services staff, and others.  Regulators considered excluding individual staff members who are present at the site of care less frequently than once a week from these vaccination requirements but were concerned that this might lead to confusion or fragmented care, so any individual who performs their duties at any site of care, or has the potential to have contact with anyone at the site of care, including staff or patients, must be fully vaccinated.
  • Regulators noted that many infrequent services and tasks performed in or for a health care facility are conducted by “one off” vendors, volunteers, and professionals.  Providers and suppliers are not required to ensure the vaccination of individuals who infrequently provide ad hoc non-health care services (such as annual elevator inspection), delivery, or repair personnel.
  • When determining whether to require COVID-19 vaccination of an individual who does not fall into the categories established by this rule, facilities are told to consider frequency of presence, services provided, and proximity to patients and staff.  For example, a plumber who makes an emergency repair in an empty restroom or service area and correctly wears a mask for the entirety of the visit may not be an appropriate candidate for mandatory vaccination. On the other hand, a crew working on a construction project whose members use shared facilities (restrooms, cafeteria, break rooms) during their breaks would be subject to these requirements because they are using the same common areas used by staff, patients, and visitors.
  • To learn more, please consult the following resources:
  • OSHA has announced a new emergency temporary standard to protect more than 84 million workers from the spread of COVID-19 on the job.  Under this standard, covered employers (those with 100 or more employees) must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose either to be vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.  Learn more from this OSHA news release and the agency’s formal Emergency Testing Standard, as published in the Federal Register.

New Medicare Regulations

CMS has released a number of final Medicare regulations.  The following are those final rules and links to additional information about them.

  • Hospital outpatient prospective payment system, ambulatory surgical center prospective payment system, price transparency, and radiation oncology model rule – changes include a two percent rate increase; restoration of the inpatient-only procedure list and most procedures that were removed from that list last year; continuation of 340B payments at average sale price minus 22.5 percent; changes in the hospital price transparency rule that leave hospitals with more than 30 beds subject to fines of up to $5500 a day or more than $2 million a year; changes in the quality reporting program, including a measure for COVID-19 vaccination rate among health care workers; and some changes in the Radiation Oncology Model program that begins on January 1, 2022, including invoking its “Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances Policy” for the program.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • For more on the “Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances Policy” and its application to the Radiation Oncology Model, go here and scroll down.
  • Physician fee schedule – changes include an overall reduction of nearly nine percent in physician payments; a reduction of the conversion factor from the current $34.89 to $33.59; and provisions for the expanded use of telehealth.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • Home health prospective payment system – changes include a 3.2 percent rate increase, changes in the Medicare conditions of participation, and provisions for expanded use of telehealth.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • CMS has issued a final rule that updates payment rates under the End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Prospective Payment System for renal dialysis services furnished to beneficiaries on or after January 1, 2022.  This rule also finalizes updates to the Acute Kidney Injury program dialysis payment rate for renal dialysis services furnished by ESRD facilities.  It also finalizes modifications to the ESRD Treatment Choices Model policies to encourage certain health care providers to reduce disparities in rates of home dialysis and kidney transplants among ESRD patients with lower socioeconomic status.  To learn more, see the following resources:

The White House

Congress

  • Yesterday, House Democrats released the text of its reconciliation bill, H.R. 5376 – the Build Back Better Act.  This bill includes a provision that provides a glide-path to ending the enhanced 6.2% Medicaid federal matching percentage established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March last year.  The enhanced FMAP would be phased out as follows:
    • April 1, 2022, the enhanced FMAP lowered  to 3.0 percentage points;
    • July 1, 2022, enhanced FMAP lowered to 1.5 percentage points;
    • October 1, 2022, enhanced FMAP expires.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hopes the House will vote on the domestic spending reconciliation bill as early as this evening, to be followed by a vote on the bipartisan, Senate-passed infrastructure bill on Friday.  House Democrats have continued to negotiate changes in the reconciliation bill to gain more support, though it is unclear whether those changes have persuaded enough Democrats in the House to support the bill at this time.  Also unclear is whether the House bill will comply with the Senate’s procedural rules or whether this bill will have the support of all 50 Democratic senators.

Provider Relief Fund:  Phase 3 Payment Reconsideration

  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is accepting requests for reconsideration from providers that believe their Provider Relief Fund Phase 3 payments were incorrectly calculated.  Providers may not revise or correct their submitted application and the reconsideration will address only the calculation itself and not objections to the calculation methodology.  Go here for further information.  The deadline for submitting requests for reconsideration of Phase 3 payments is November 12.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • HHS has proposed eliminating the “Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely” (SUNSET) regulation, adopted in January of this year, that would have eliminated department regulations after ten years unless HHS took specific action to renew them.  In proposing to reverse the rule, HHS cited its previous failure to consider stakeholder objections to the rule, the burden it would place on the agency, and its potentially negative effect on medically vulnerable populations.  See HHS’s proposed rule overturning the SUNSET regulation in this Federal Register notice.
  • HHS has awarded $3.37 billion in relief funds through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help low-income individuals and families afford home heating costs this winter and cover unpaid utility bills.  This supplements $4.5 billion in LIHEAP funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that were released in May.  Learn more about this new LIHEAP funding and how interested parties can apply for assistance in this HHS news release.
  • HRSA has issued an interim update to its strategic plan to ensure alignment with the administration’s and HHS’s priorities, such as their emphasis on health equity, and the expansion of HRSA’s program responsibilities.  Go here to learn about the updated interim plan.
  • HRSA has opened its application process for three of its loan repayment programs with the support of an additional $800 million made available through the American Rescue Plan.  Eligible clinicians providing primary medical, dental, behavioral health care services, or evidence-based substance use disorder treatment can qualify for loan repayment of up to:
  • $50,000 for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program
  • $75,000 for the NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program
  • 100,000 for the NHSC Rural Community Loan Repayment Program

Go here to learn more about eligible clinicians.  Applications are due December 16.

  • HHS’s Indian Health Service has announced $46.4 million in funding opportunities to address suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse and for support for an integrative approach to the delivery of behavioral health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Go here to learn more about the funding opportunities.  Applications are due February 2.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has reminded eligible consumers and providers that coverage for COVID-19 vaccines for children from the ages of five to 11 is available without cost-sharing under Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and in the commercial market.  Under the terms of the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement, health care providers and other entities administering COVID-19 vaccines must agree not to deny anyone a COVID-19 vaccination based on their health coverage status and also must agree to administer COVID-19 vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost to recipients.  Learn more from this CMS news release.
  • CMS has posted a quick start guide to CLIA certification for COVID-19 testing in the workplace and an accompanying FAQ.

Health Policy News

  • CMS has extended two deadlines affecting hospitals that participate in its Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program and/or the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program.  As described in this CMS notice,
  • The deadline for the submission of electronic clinical quality measure (eCQM) data for the calendar year 2021 reporting period, pertaining to the FY 2023 payment determination, has been changed from Monday, February 28, 2022 to Thursday, March 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
  • The Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program attestation deadline for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals has been changed from Monday, February 28, 2022 to Thursday, March 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
  • CMS has posted the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  Included in the new release are articles about changes for Medicare Advantage plan claims for COVID-19 vaccines and monoclonal antibodies that will take effect on January 1, 2022; changes in Medicare billing practices; a new web-based training program on post-acute care quality reporting programs; and more.  Go here to see the latest edition of MLN Connects.
  • CMS has released an updated fact sheet, based on recent legislative changes, to help states and advocacy organizations understand what health coverage options are available to Afghan evacuees.  Find that fact sheet here.

Food and Drug Administration

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative has announced the launch of the “When To Test Calculator for Individuals,” a companion to the version for organizations introduced last winter.  By responding to just a few prompts, the new online individual impact calculator indicates whether a person should get a test and when.  The calculator includes answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources on testing strategies and on obtaining supplies, including home tests.  Learn more from this NIH announcement.
  • The NIH will support a four-year follow-up study on the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 on women infected with the virus during pregnancy.  The study also will follow their offspring for any potential long-term effects.  Learn more from this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has updated “Payment Basics,” its series of brief overviews of how Medicare’s payment systems function.  The agency produces Payment Basics as a resource for policy-makers and others to better understand how Medicare pays for health care services.  Much of the update reflects COVID-19-related payment changes.  Find the series here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • MACPAC met on Thursday, October 28 and Friday, October 29.  For a summary of the meeting and links to the agenda and presentations made during the meeting, go here.
  • MACPAC has published a new issue brief that describes the use and oversight of upper-payment limit (UPL) payments for hospitals, nursing facilities, and physicians based on its review of provider-level data submitted by states to CMS to demonstrate compliance with UPL requirements.  The brief concludes with a discussion of current policy issues, including the new requirement for CMS to make provider-level UPL data publicly available.  Find the brief here.

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

  • The GAO recently evaluated the effectiveness of the federal government’s organization of the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and its communication about those efforts and has published its findings and recommendations in the new report “COVID-19:  HHS Agencies’ Planned Reviews of Vaccine Distribution and Communication Efforts Should Include Stakeholder Perspectives.”  Find a summary of the report here and the full report here.

Congressional Research Service

Stakeholder Events

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) – November 8 and 9

MedPAC will hold virtual meetings on November 8 and 9.  For information about times, agenda, and how to join the meeting go here.

CMS – Medicare Clinical Laboratory Fee Data Collection and Reporting Webinar – November 10

CMS will hold a webinar on Medicare clinical laboratory private payer data collection and reporting on Wednesday, November 10 at 3:30 p.m. (eastern).  Go here to register to participate.

HHS – Monoclonals and More:  Issues and Opportunities with Early COVID-19 Treatment Options – November 12

HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will hold a webinar on COVID-19 treatment with monoclonal antibodies on Friday, November 12 at 12:30 p.m. during which it will address some of the most current recommendations for use of monoclonal antibodies, upcoming therapies, and the challenges and opportunities that new therapies may pose in conjunction with monoclonal antibodies and other treatments (e.g., prioritization and distribution).  Speakers also will highlight operational principles for a scaled strategy for use of these therapeutics in a scarce resource situation.  For more information about the webinar and to register, go here.

CMS – COVID-19 Vaccines and Rural Communities – November 15

CMS will hold a webinar on COVID-19 vaccines and rural communities for its community providers and partners working in rural areas.  Go here for further information about the webinar and to register to participate.

CDC – Antibiotic Prescribing and COVID-19 – November 18

The CDC will hold a webinar titled “What Clinicians, Pharmacists, and Public Health Partners Need to Know About Antibiotic Prescribing and COVID-19” on Wednesday, November 18 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern).  Go here for information about the webinar, the presenters, and how to participate.

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, October 6

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 6.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Provider Relief Fund:  Reminder That Applications Are Now Being Accepted

  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has opened its portal for providers to apply for $25.5 billion in health care relief funds, including $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan resources for providers that serve rural patients covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program and $17 billion for Provider Relief Fund Phase 4 grants for a broad range of providers that have experienced changes in operating revenues and expenses as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.  The application period runs for four weeks.  Providers must submit their completed application by October 26.  Go here for further information.

The White House

Surprise Billing Regulation

  • The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury and the Office of Personnel Management have issued an interim final rule with comment period to further implement the No Surprises Act, the law that seeks to protect consumers from surprise medical bills that was passed last December.  This rule is the third in a series implementing the No Surprises Act:  the first two were a rule to help collect data on the air ambulance provider industry and a rule in July on consumer protections against surprise billing.  Collectively, these rules take effect January 1, 2022 and ban surprise billing for emergency services as well as certain non-emergency care provided by out-of-network providers at in-network facilities and limit high out-of-network cost-sharing for emergency and non-emergency services for patients.  This latest rule details a process that will take patients out of the middle of payment disputes, provides a process to settle out-of-network rates between providers and payers, and outlines requirements for health care cost estimates for uninsured or self-pay individuals.  Other consumer protections in the rule include a payment dispute resolution process for uninsured or self-pay individuals.  It also adds protections in an external review process so that individuals with job-based or individual health plans can dispute denied payment for certain claims.  To learn more about the latest rule implementing the No Surprises Act, see the following resources:

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • A new HHS report found that COVID-19 vaccinations may have helped prevent approximately 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations, and 39,000 deaths among Medicare beneficiaries alone between January and May of 2021.  The study was conducted by researchers with HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation.  Learn more from this HHS news release and the HHS report.
  • HHS’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance to help the public understand when the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy Rule applies to disclosures and requests for information about whether a person has received a COVID-19 vaccine.  The guidance reminds the public that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not apply to employers or employment records.  Learn more from the HHS news release announcing the guidance and from the guidance itself.

Health Policy News

  • HHS has rescinded a regulation that required health centers to create and maintain new practices necessary to determine patients’ eligibility to receive certain drugs at or below the discounted price paid by the health center or subgrantees plus an administration fee under the section 340B prescription drug discount program.  In particular, the rule affected patient eligibility for insulin products at reduced prices.  Although HHS is withdrawing the rule itself, the executive order the rule was intended to implement remains in effect and, according to language in the recission, “HHS is exploring non-regulatory options to implement the Executive Order.”  Learn more from the Federal Register notice rescinding the 2020 rule.
  • HHS has issued a final rule to revise the Title X family planning program.  The rule restores eligibility for federal family planning funds for organizations that also perform abortions or provide referrals for them, requires family planning facilities to broaden their array of services, and adds health equity considerations to the review of grant requests.  Learn more from HHS’s announcement about the new rule and from the rule itself.
  • HHS has awarded $2.21 billion in Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding for cities, counties, states, and local community-based organizations in FY 2021.  The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program provides care and treatment services to low-income people with HIV and serves approximately 50 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV in the U.S.  Learn more from the HHS announcement, which includes links to several categories of grant recipients.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has updated its information about Medicare and Medicaid opioid prescribing rates based on geography.  Find the updated Medicare data here and the updated Medicaid data here.
  • CMS is offering web-based training to assist skilled nursing facility providers with coding for data element O0100, part of the Minimum Data Set.  Go here for a description of the training and the on-demand training itself.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • The CDC announced that it has awarded 20 grants under its “Closing the Gap with Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Plans” initiative.  The funding, which was awarded on a competitive basis, is intended to help accelerate actions in state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions that lead to improved chronic disease outcomes among persons experiencing health disparities and inequities.  Learn more about the program and the grant recipients in this CDC announcement.

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has issued emergency use authorization for the ACON Laboratories Flowflex COVID-19 Home Test, an over-the-counter COVID-19 antigen test.  The agency expects this authorization to double rapid at-home testing capacity in the U.S. over the next several weeks.  By the end of the year the manufacturer plans to produce more than 100 million tests a month, and this number will rise to 200 million a month by February of 2022.  Learn more from this FDA announcement.
  • The FDA has revised its guidance on the compounding of drugs by hospitals and health systems.  Learn more from the FDA announcement of the revision and from the newly revised guidance.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH has released a study of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Latino individuals in the United States.  Learn more from this NIH news release, which summarizes the study’s findings, and from the Annals of Internal Medicine article “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Excess Deaths During the COVID-19 Pandemic, March to December 2020.”
  • An NIH analysis has found the risk of COVID-19 breakthrough infections among vaccinated patients with substance use disorders to be low overall but higher than the risk among vaccinated people without substance use disorders.  The study also found that co-occurring health conditions and adverse socioeconomic determinants of health, which are more common in people with substance use disorders, appear to be largely responsible for the increased risk of COVID-19 breakthrough infections.  People with substance use disorders – such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, opioid, and tobacco use disorders – also had elevated rates of severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death, following breakthrough infections.  Learn more from this NIH news release and from the article “Increased risk for COVID-19 breakthrough infection in fully vaccinated patients with substance use disorders in the United States between December 2020 and August 2021,” published in the journal World Psychiatry.
  • Through its High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, the NIH has awarded 106 grants “…to support highly innovative and broadly impactful biomedical or behavioral research by exceptionally creative scientists…”  Learn more about the categories in which the grants were awarded and find links to more information about those categories and this year’s grant winners in this NIH news release.

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Stakeholder Events

HRSA – New Provider Relief Fund and Rural Hospital Grants – October 13 and 21

The Health Resources and Services Administration will hold web events on Wednesday, October 13 and Thursday, October 21 for providers interested in pursuing Provider Relief Fund grants and funding for rural hospitals provided through the American Rescue Plan.  The purpose of these events is to provide guidance on how to navigate the application portal for seeking such grants.

  • To register for the October 13 webcast, go here.
  • To register for the October 21 webcast, go here.

CDC – Recommendations for Influenza Prevention and Treatment in Children – October 7

The CDC and experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics will hold a webinar on Thursday, October 7 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern) to discuss strategies that primary care providers and medical subspecialists can use to improve, prevent, and control influenza among children during the upcoming flu season.  Go here to learn more about the webinar and how to participate.

MedPAC – Public Meeting – October 7 and October 8

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) will hold its October public meetings on  Thursday, October 7 and Friday, October 8.  The meetings will be held virtually.  Go here to find the agenda for the two days of meetings and information about how to join those meetings.

FDA – Workshop Addressing Response to the Opioid Crisis – October 13 and October 14

The FDA will hold a workshop titled “Reconsidering Mandatory Opioid Prescriber Education Through a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS)” to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input on aspects of the current opioid crisis that could be mitigated in a measurable way by requiring mandatory prescriber education as part of a REMS effort.  The public workshop will be held on October 13 and October 14.  For information about participating in the workshop or submitting comments or materials, see this Federal Register notice.

Federal Health Policy Update for Friday, July 2

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Friday, July 2.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Supreme Court

  • The Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a case in its next term challenging cuts in 340B payments and another involving Medicare disproportionate share.

White House

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS has published new information about use of Provider Relief Fund grants, accounting for the use of those grants, expense and lost revenue calculations, changes in ownership, reporting on the use of Provider Relief Fund resources, and more.  The changes, including links to new documents, worksheets, instructions, an FAQ, a link to a webinar to learn about these changes, and more can be found on the Provider Relief Fund’s “reporting requirements and auditing” web page.  Recipients of Provider Relief Fund grants should review this new information carefully.
  • HHS also has updated its Provider Relief Fund FAQ site to reflect the changes introduced on the primary Provider Relief Fund web site (described above).  The update includes 24 new or updated items addressing the expenditure of Provider Relief Fund grants, accounting for and reporting on the use of those grants, recoupments, FEMA funds, and more.  The changes, marked “7/1/2021,” can be found on pages 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, and 22-27.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has introduced a COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapeutics calculator for infusion sites (mAbs Calculator) to inform staffing decisions and resource investments needed for COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapeutic infusion sites.  Go here to learn more about the calculator and to find a link to it.
  • HHS’s COVID-19 health equity task force met this week to consider interim recommendations addressing the inequities and the impact of long-COVID or Post-Acute Sequelae COVID-19 infection and access to personal protective equipment, testing, and therapeutics.  Go here for a summary of the meeting and links to a recording of the event.

Health Policy News

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has released the final notice for the Basic Health Program federal funding methodology for program year 2022.  This document provides the methodology and data sources necessary to determine federal payment amounts for program year 2022 to states that elect to establish a Basic Health Program to offer health benefits coverage to low-income individuals otherwise eligible to purchase coverage through qualified health plans in the exchange.  Learn more in the proposed rule.
  • CMS has proposed updating its End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) prospective payment system rates, changing the ESRD Quality Incentive Program, and modifying the ESRD Treatment Choices (ETC) Model.  The proposed changes to the ETC Model policies seek to encourage dialysis providers to decrease disparities in rates of home dialysis and kidney transplants among ESRD patients with lower socioeconomic status.  Other changes in the proposed ESRD regulation address rates, wage index, an update of the outlier policy, a transitional add-on payment adjustment for new and innovative equipment and supplies applications, and more.  Learn more from the following resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

  • The CDC has published a report in which it evaluates the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among health care workers during the early phase of vaccinations.  Find the report here.
  • The CDC has updated its guidance for laboratories on the use of pooling for COVID-19 testing.  The new guidance notes that while pooling specimens for public health surveillance purposes is still acceptable, the focus now is on its use for diagnostic and screening testing.
  • The CDC has issued a guide for jurisdictions on expanding COVID-19 vaccine distribution to primary care providers to address disparities in immunizations.  Find it here.
  • The CDC has published research on the efficacy of portable air cleaners and masking for reducing indoor exposure to simulated exhaled COVID-19 aerosols.  Read the report here.

Health Policy News

  • The CDC reports that the number of cancer screenings received by women through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program declined 87 percent for breast cancer and 84 percent for cervical cancer during April 2020 compared numbers for that month over the past five years.  The CDC attributes this to delayed in seeking care because of COVID-19.  Learn more here.

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

  • With improved access nation-wide to N95 masks, the FDA has revoked emergency use authorizations for certain respirators and decontamination systems.  See the FDA announcement.  The FDA also will hold a webinar to share information and answer questions about its revocation of EUAs for non-NIOSH-approved respirators and decontamination systems.  Go here to learn more about the webinar.

Health Policy News

  • The FDA has alerted users of Philips Respironics ventilators, BiPAP, and CPAP machines and their health care providers that Philips Respironics has recalled certain devices due to potential health risks.  Go here to see the FDA announcement.
  • The FDA has approved Rylaze (asparaginase erwinia chrysanthemi (recombinant)-rywn) as a component of a chemotherapy regimen to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoblastic lymphoma in adult and pediatric patients who are allergic to the E. coli-derived asparaginase products used most commonly for treatment.  Learn more here.
  • The FDA has released a Cyclospora prevention, response, and research action plan.  The plan focuses on improving prevention, enhancing response activities, and filling knowledge gaps to help prevent Cyclospora contamination of foods and to help prepare for responding to future outbreaks.  See the FDA announcement for more.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH announced that it is funding five additional projects to identify ways of safely returning students and staff to in-person school in areas with vulnerable and underserved populations. Learn more about the new projects and other NIH-funded projects with similar objectives in this NIH announcement.

FEMA

  • FEMA has revised its COVID-19 funeral assistance policy to assist with COVID-19-related fatalities that occurred in the early months of the pandemic.  The change is intended to help families paying for funeral costs for people who died of COVID-19 but for which that cause of death was not noted on their death certificate.  Learn more from FEMA’s announcement of the change, which also has links to additional resources.

Stakeholder Events

Thursday, July 8 – HHS

HHS’s “We Can Do This” campaign is a national initiative to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and get more people vaccinated.  This campaign offers tailored resources and toolkits for stakeholders to use to provide COVID-19 vaccine information to at-risk populations.  CMS is partnering with the campaign to offer several webinars to walk through each toolkit and its resources and train community organizations, local voices, and trusted leaders to use the campaign tools for vaccine outreach efforts to diverse communities.  A webinar will be held on Thursday, July 8 at 1:00 p.m. (eastern)  Register here.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, July 7, July 8, and July 9 CMS

CMS – Revisions to the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) Code Set.

CMS will hold virtual meetings on July 7, 8, and 9, to discuss its preliminary coding recommendations for revisions of the HCPCS Level II code set.  For information about times, registration, submission of materials, signing up to speak, and submitting comments, click here.

Wednesday, July 8 – HHS – Provider Relief Fund

HHS will host a webcast on Wednesday, July 8 at 3:00 p.m. (eastern) to present updated information on the use of Provider Relief Fund grants and reporting and auditing requirements associated with the receipt and use of those grants.  Go here to register.

Tuesday, July 13 – Food and Drug Administration

The FDA will host a webinar to share information and answer questions about its revocation of EUAs for non-NIOSH-approved respirators and decontamination systems.  It will present information about its June 30, 2021 “Update:  FDA No Longer Authorizes Use of Non-NIOSH-Approved or Decontaminated Disposable Respirators – Letter to Health Care Personnel and Facilities.”  To join the webinar:

Zoom Webinar Link: https://fda.zoomgov.com/j/1600971341?pwd=UTJMTlZmYzVScmNZamd2d2J4SU92Zz09External Link Disclaimer

Webinar Passcode: $vrC6z

Dial: 833-568-8864
Webinar ID: 160 097 1341
Passcode: 292602

Tuesday, July 13 Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)
ONC Workshop: Advancing SDOH Data Use and Interoperability for Achieving Health Equity
Tuesday, July 13 at 10:00 am – 4:00 pm ET  Click here for connection information
This workshop will explore existing and emerging data standards, tools, approaches, policies, models, and interventions for advancing the use and interoperability of non-clinical health data for individual and community health improvement.  It will share varying perspectives of health policy-makers and health improvement implementers to highlight inventive solutions, share challenges, and offer ideas on data modernization to advance health equity.  The workshop offers introductory content as well as deep exploration of key topics as part of social determinants of health IT data use and interoperability including facilitated, expert stakeholder engagement.

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Tuesday, June 15

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 15.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy

  • Reduced hospital admissions as a result of people deferring needed medical care during the pandemic could jeopardize safety-net hospitals’ continued eligibility for the section 340B prescription drug program.  Two bills currently in Congress, H.R. 3203 and S. 773, would protect safety-net hospitals and others from this one-year anomaly and NASH has written to members of Congress asking them to co-sponsor and support those bills.  See NASH’s letter to members of Congress.

Provider Relief Fund

  • Late last week HHS announced that it has increased the amount of time providers will have to report information and extended key deadlines for expending Provider Relief Fund payments for recipients that received payments after June 30, 2020.  The revised reporting requirements will be applicable to providers that received one or more payments exceeding, in the aggregate, $10,000 during a single payment-received period from the Provider Relief Fund General Distributions, Targeted Distributions, and/or Skilled Nursing Facility and Nursing Home Infection Control Distributions.  For additional information, see the following resources:

HHS also has updated its Provider Relief Fund FAQ to reflect those changes.  The changes in the FAQ, which address how much time fund recipients have to spend their grants, how they must report on their spending, how audits will be conducted, and how certain data elements in the reporting requirements are defined, can be found within the document on pages 8, 14, 16, 22-25, and 40.  HHS also has updated the FAQ section of the Provider Relief Fund web site and the reporting requirements and auditing section of that site to reflect these changes.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS announced that it has provided $424.7 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan to more than 4200 Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) for COVID-19 testing and mitigation.  Later this summer HHS will issue up to $35.3 million in additional funding to RHCs that meet eligibility requirements.  Funding is based on how many certified clinic sites RHCs operate and is $100,000 for each clinic site.  RHCs will use the money to maintain and increase COVID-19 testing, expand access to testing for rural residents, and broaden efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus in ways tailored to local communities.  See HHS’s announcement about the funding.
  • HHS’s Office of the Secretary for Preparedness and Response has published a document titled “Innovations in COVID-19 Patient Surge Management” that offers brief case studies on how four different jurisdictions handled major increases in COVID-19 cases.

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Office of the Secretary for Preparedness and Response has published a new table-top exercise toolkit to help emergency planners create an interactive, discussion-based exercise focusing on the effects on health care coalitions and health care facilities of large numbers of patients seeking care following exposure to an infectious agent.  Find the toolkit here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA announced that it has authorized the use of a limited supply of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at a plant that is not yet an authorized manufacturing facility.  At the same time, it concluded that some vaccine materials manufactured in that same plant may not be used for COVID-19 vaccines.  In addition, the FDA has extended the expiration date for the refrigerated Johnson & Johnson vaccine after reviewing information submitted by the company.  Learn more from this FDA news release.
  • In a new episode of the FDA Office of Minority Health and Health Equity Forum Podcast, Rear Admiral Richardae Araojo discusses FDA’s emergency use authorization process with Rear Admiral Denise Hinton, the FDA’s chief scientist.  Go here for a transcript of the discussion and to find a link to the podcast itself.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH reports that results from a Phase 3 clinical trial show that the Novavax investigational vaccine demonstrated 90.4 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease.  The vaccine showed 100 percent protection against moderate and severe disease.  In people at high risk of developing complications from COVID-19 the vaccine showed 91 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 disease.  Learn more from the NIH news release.
  • The NIH announced that a new antibody testing study examining samples originally collected through its “All of Us” research program found evidence of COVID-19 infections in five states earlier than had initially been reported.  The results expand on findings from a CDC study that suggested that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was present in the U.S. as far back as December of 2019.  See the NIH news release here.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has released its annual report to Congress.  The report includes:
  • Mandatory reports that evaluate the skilled nursing facility value-based purchasing program; assess the impact of recent changes in Medicare’s clinical laboratory fee schedule payment rates; and examine the relationship between clinician services and other Medicare services.
  • Reports requested by Congress on private equity and Medicare and Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care in rural areas (an interim report).
  • Additional reports on rebalancing Medicare Advantage benchmark policy; streamlining CMS’s portfolio of alternative payment models; revising Medicare’s indirect medical education payments to better reflect teaching hospitals’ costs; Medicare vaccine coverage and payment; and improving Medicare’s policies for separately payable drugs in the hospital outpatient prospective payment system.

Learn more from MedPAC’s announcement about its June report and find the report itself here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • MACPAC has sent its annual report to Congress.  The report addresses high-cost specialty drugs in the Medicaid program; access to mental health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); integration of physical and behavioral health care through electronic health records; Medicaid’s non-emergency transportation benefit; and state strategies for integrating care for people who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare.  See MACPAC’s announcement about its report here and find the report itself here.

National Association of Medicaid Directors

  • The National Association of Medicaid Directors has published “Medicaid Forward,” which it describes as identifying “…opportunities for action to address immediate and long-term challenges for children’s health emerging from the COVID crisis across communities.  The report is amplified by real-world examples of states that have implemented the strategies outlined in the framework.”

Government Accountability Office

  • The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 established the Physician-Focused Payment Model Technical Advisory Committee to provide comments and recommendations to HHSSHH on physician payment models and gave the Comptroller General responsibility for appointing its members.  GAO is now accepting nominations of individuals to serve on this committee.  Letters of nomination and resumes should be submitted no later than July 16.  Learn more from this notice published in the Federal Register.

Stakeholder Events

Wednesday, June 16 – FDA

Virtual Town Hall Series – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test Development and Validation
Wednesday, June 16 at 12:15 pm ET  Click here for connection information
The FDA will host a virtual town hall for COVID-19 test developers.  The purpose of this town hall is to help answer technical questions about the development and validation of tests for COVID-19.

Wednesday and Thursday, June 16 and June 17 – FEMA

COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance Webinars
Wednesday, June 16 at 7:00 at 8:00 pm ET  Click here for connection information

FEMA is offering a series of webinars throughout the month of June to further educate people on its pandemic operational guidance.  The webinar will cover information included in COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance: All Hazards Incident Response and Recovery, a document aimed at helping emergency managers plan for disaster response and recovery while adhering to public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  This is webinar is also being offered on Thursday, June 17 at 1:00 – 2:00 PM.

Thursday, June 17 – U.S. Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3)
HC3 Cybersecurity Threat Briefing on Threat Hunting
Thursday, June 17 at 1:00 pm ET  Click here to learn more
HHS’s HC3 program invites stakeholders to join its second cybersecurity threat briefings in June; the topic will be “Threat Hunting.”  This initiative will provide actionable information on health sector cybersecurity threats and mitigations.  HC3 analysts will present relevant cybersecurity topics, engage in discussions with participants on current threats, and highlight best practices and mitigation tactics.

Thursday, June 17 – CDC
Evaluating and Caring for Patients with Post-COVID Conditions
Thursday, June 17 at 2:00 – 3:00 pm ET  Click here to learn more

During this CDC Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) Call, clinicians will learn about the CDC’s new interim guidance that provides a framework for health care providers in their initial assessment, evaluation, management, and follow-up of persons with possible post-COVID conditions. Post-COVID conditions refer to the wide range of physical and mental health consequences experienced by some patients that are present four or more weeks after COVID-19 infection, including by patients who had initial mild or asymptomatic acute infection.

Friday, June 18 – Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)
ONC Workshop: Advancing Social Determinants of Health Data Use and Interoperability for Achieving Health Equity
Friday, June 18 at 10:00 am – 4:30 pm ET  Click here to learn more
This workshop will explore existing and emerging data standards, tools, approaches, policies, models, and interventions for advancing the use and interoperability of non-clinical health data for individual and community health improvement.  It will enable varying perspectives of health policy-makers and health improvement implementers to highlight inventive solutions, share challenges, and review ideas on data modernization to advance health equity.  The workshop offers introductory content as well as deep exploration of key topics as part of social determinants of health IT data use and interoperability, including facilitated, expert stakeholder engagement.

Tuesday, June 22 – FDA
FDA Drug Topics: Overview of Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) for Health Care Providers
Tuesday, June 22 at 1:00 – 2:15 pm ET  Click here to learn more
This webinar will provide an overview of REMS and discuss how REMS safety requirements affect prescribers, dispensers, and patients.  Participants should gain an understanding of the REMS authorities, how REMS are implemented, and the entities that provide oversite and support.  REMS is a drug safety program that the FDA can require for certain medications with serious safety concerns to help ensure that the benefits of the medication outweigh its risks.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, July 7, July 8, and July 9 – CMS

CMS – Revisions to the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) Code Set

CMS will hold virtual meetings on July 7, 8, and 9, to discuss its preliminary coding recommendations for revisions of the HCPCS Level II code set.  For information about times, registration, submission of materials, signing up to speak, and submitting comments, click here.

CMS – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Stakeholder Calls 

HHS’s “We Can Do This” campaign is a national initiative to build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and get more people vaccinated.  This campaign offers tailored resources and toolkits for stakeholders to use to provide COVID-19 vaccine information to at-risk populations.  CMS is partnering with the campaign to offer several webinars to walk through each toolkit and its resources and train community organizations, local voices, and trusted leaders to use the campaign tools for vaccine outreach efforts to diverse communities.

Webinar dates and registration links are below:

  • Thursday, June 17 1:00-1:30 pm ET: Rural Toolkit – Register here
  • Tuesday, June 22, 1:00-1:30 pm ET: Spanish Language Toolkits – Registration TBD*
  • Thursday June 24, 1:00-1:30 pm ET: Healthcare workers Toolkit – Registration TBD
  • Tuesday, June 29, 1:00-1:30 pm ET: Faith-Based Toolkits – Registration TBD
  • Thursday, July 1, 1:00-2:00 pm ET: Toolkits for Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities – Registration TBD
  • Thursday, July 8, 1:00-1:30 pm ET: Older Adults Toolkit – Registration TBD

Go here for registration information for the remaining dates.

NASH Seeks Congress’s Help With 340B

Changing hospital admissions experiences in the past year resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could jeopardize some safety-net hospitals’ continued eligibility for the section 340B prescription drug discount program and NASH is asking for Congress’s help to prevent this.

COVID-19 led to a reduction of hospitals admissions as people deferred addressing their medical problems out of fear of contracting the virus.  These reduced admissions, a one-year anomaly, could affect safety-net hospitals’ ability to continue participating in the 340B program, which is an essential tool for  helping hospitals provide low-cost prescription drugs to low-income patients in the communities they serve.

For this reason, NASH has asked members of Congress to co-sponsor and support H.R. 3203 and S. 773, which would protect hospitals from losing eligibility for the 340B program based on one year of once-in-a-lifetime admissions pattern changes.  See NASH’s message to members of Congress.

Give 340B Discounts to Contract Pharmacies, HHS Tells Pharma

Pharmaceutical companies must extend 340B discounts to contract pharmacies, the Department of Health and Human Services told the pharmaceutical industry at the end of 2020.

Not so fast, the pharmaceutical industry has replied.

Several pharmaceutical companies have indicated that they are not prepared to assert that they will comply with the HHS directive, which was issued in an advisory opinion that is not binding.

The 340B program, which enables hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients to purchase prescription drugs at a discount to dispense to such patients on an outpatient basis, has long been a vital tool in the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their community.  NASH has long supported the program, doing so most recently in a September letter to members of Congress.

Go here to see the advisory opinion, and to learn more about the industry’s response to the opinion, read the Fierce Pharma article “Feds tell pharma companies to pony up 340B discounts, but it’s unclear whether they will.”

340B Discounts Apply to Contract Pharmacies, Too, HHS Says

Drug companies must provide 340B discounts on covered outpatient drugs even when 340B-eligible providers use contract pharmacies, the Department of Health and Human Services has said in an advisory opinion.

Among other observations, the advisory opinion notes that the requirement that drug companies participate in the 340B program “…is not qualified, restricted, or dependent on how the covered entity chooses to distribute the covered outpatient drugs;” that “The notion that the legitimate transfer of drugs to contract pharmacies so that they can be dispensed to patients of the covered entity constitutes diversion not only ignores the realities of accounting, but also that the covered entity and contract pharmacy are not distinct, but function as principal-agent;” and that “…the argument that use of contract pharmacies constitutes an illicit ‘transfer’ leads to absurd results.”

HHS advisory opinions do not carry the force of law.

The 340B program, which enables hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients to purchase prescription drugs at a discount to dispense to such patients on an outpatient basis, has long been a vital tool in the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their community.  NASH has long supported the program, doing so most recently in a September letter to members of Congress.

For more information about HHS’s response to the attempts of pharmaceutical companies to avoid providing 340B discounts, see HHS’s news release on its advisory opinion and read the advisory opinion itself.

 

Back Off 340B Cuts, HHS Tells Drug Company

Eli Lilly and Company is being presumptuous in assuming that the federal government will approve its plan to cease providing some federally mandated prescription drug discounts under the section 340B prescription drug discount program and does so at its own peril, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned the company in a strongly worded letter.

Without addressing the merits of Eli Lilly’s request, HHS found the manner in which the company sought to force the federal government’s hand on the matter to be unacceptable.  HHS also questioned the timing of the company’s request in its recent letter, writing that

…we believe the timing of your pricing changes is, at the very least, insensitive to the recent state of the economy.  Although the economy is rebounding at a record rate, the unemployment and under-employment rates are still temporarily higher than at the beginning of the year due to COVID-19.  Many Americans and many small businesses have had difficulty making ends meet.  Lilly, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying an outstanding year.

The HHS letter also observes that

…during this same period, most health care providers, many of which are covered entities under section 340B, were struggling financially and requiring federal assistance from the Provider Relief Fund established by the CARES Act.  Many continue to struggle and depend on emergency taxpayer assistance.  It is against this backdrop that you are effectively increasing the price of 10 mg and 20 mg Cialis by more than 500,000 percent and have done the same for other drugs in your portfolio.

The 340B program, which enables hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients to purchase prescription drugs at a discount to dispense to such patients on an outpatient basis, has long been a vital tool in the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their community.  NASH has long supported the program, doing so most recently in a letter earlier this month to members of Congress.

The HHS letter to Eli Lilly and Company – one of five companies attempting to redefine 340B requirements – concludes with a warning that should the company proceed with its plan, doing so could result in legal action “…in the event that Lilly knowingly violates a material condition of the program that results in over-charges to grantees and contractors.”

Go here to see the HHS letter to Eli Lilly and Company.

NASH Asks Congress to Help Prevent Attempt to Undermine 340B

Pharmaceutical companies are attempting to prevent safety-net hospitals and others from receiving the full benefits of the section 340B prescription drug discount program and the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals is asking members of the House of Representatives to sign a congressional letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking to him intervene and stop the pharmaceutical companies.

In asking members of Congress to sign onto the bipartisan letter, NASH notes that

The 340B program is essential for private safety-net hospitals and others like them throughout the country, enabling them to obtain discounts on prescription drugs they dispense on an outpatient basis to qualified, low-income patients.  The program greatly enhances the ability of hospitals to serve their low-income patients and does not cost taxpayers a single dime, but in recent weeks several pharmaceutical companies have taken steps to prevent hospitals from receiving the prescription drug discounts that Congress clearly intended when it created the 340B program nearly 30 years ago.

Learn more about the 340B problem and what NASH and others are asking Secretary Azar to do to help in this NASH message to members of Congress.

 

340B Benefits in Jeopardy?

340B discounts appear to be in jeopardy as pharmaceutical companies make it more difficult for qualified hospitals to get access to discounted prescription drugs.

One pharmaceutical company reportedly will stop offering discounted drugs to contract pharmacies; another proposes limiting sales of certain medications; and yet others may require claims from contract pharmacies.

Providers that serve especially high proportions of low-income patients are eligible to participate in the 340B program, which provides discounts on prescription drugs that they dispense to outpatients.  Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it a vital tool in serving the many low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.  NASH has urged Congress to protect the program, doing so most recently in this July letter to Senate leaders.

Learn more about the challenges providers face in ensuring their continued access to discounted prescription drugs for their low-income patients in the Fierce Healthcare article “Drugmakers getting bolder in fight over 340B drug discounts.”