Federal Health Policy Update for Monday, August 30

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Monday, August 30.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Temporary Suspension of COVID-19 Data Reporting Requirements for Some Hospitals

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has announced that federal hospital COVID-19 reporting requirements for the entire state of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi have been suspended for seven days in response to Hurricane Ida.  While hospitals in the affected areas may still report their data if they wish they are not required to do so and reporting for this period is not expected to be back-filled.  The office will continue to monitor the storm’s impact and this suspension could be extended or expanded to additional areas depending on conditions in the region.

Department of Health and Human Services

  • HHS has declared a state of public emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi because of the effects of Hurricane Ida.  See the HHS announcement for more about what this means.
  • HHS has issued guidance with essential information for states as they navigate the options available to advance COVID-19 vaccination and testing and the Medicaid program’s broader aim of providing health coverage for millions of eligible individuals.  To help states support families and communities and to continue to address health disparities, CMS is providing guidance to states about additional American Rescue Plan funding to promote the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for eligible children and adults enrolled in Medicaid.  Among the areas the new guidance addresses are COVID-19 testing in schools, coverage of habilitation services, enhancing access to COVID-19 vaccines, incentives for states to expand Medicaid, and reducing health disparities.  Learn more from this HHS news release, which includes links to several documents HHS has issued in support of this initiative.
  • HHS has established an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in response to President Biden’s executive order calling for tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.  The office is charged with:
    • Identifying communities with disproportionate exposures to climate hazards and vulnerable populations.
    • Addressing health disparities exacerbated by climate impacts to enhance community health resilience.
    • Promoting and translating research on public health benefits of multi-sectoral climate actions.
    • Assisting with regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollution throughout the health care sector, including participating suppliers and providers.
    • Fostering innovation in climate adaptation and resilience for disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations.
    • Providing expertise and coordination to the White House, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and federal agencies related to climate change and health equity deliverables and activities, including Executive Order implementation and reporting on health adaptation actions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
    • Promoting training opportunities to build the climate and health workforce and empower communities.
    • Exploring opportunities to partner with the philanthropic and private sectors to support innovative programming to address disparities and health sector transformation.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has extended the deadline for providers, FQHCs, and associations to apply for grants under its “Promoting Resilience and Mental Health Among Health Professional Workforce” program from August 30 to September 20.  $29 million in grant funding is available.  Learn more about the grants and the application process here.
  • HRSA has extended the deadline for applications for another public safety workforce resiliency training program from August 30 to September 20.  This program, which will award up to $68 million in grants, is part of a program to plan, develop, operate, or participate in health professions and nursing training activities using evidence-based or evidence-informed strategies, to reduce and address burnout, suicide, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders and promote resiliency among health care students, residents, professionals, paraprofessionals, trainees, public safety officers, and employers of such individuals in rural and underserved communities.  Learn more about the program and the grant opportunity here.
  • HRSA has awarded $10.7 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental health care access by integrating telehealth services into pediatric care.  Learn more about the programs funded by these resources and the recipients of this grant in this HHS announcement.
  • HRSA will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing changes in the agency’s organization and operations.  See a pre-publication version of the notice here.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  The latest edition has an article on revised ICD-10 code sets, an update on monoclonal antibodies, and more.  Find it here.
  • CMS announced that Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program in 2020 earned performance payments (shared savings) totaling nearly $2.3 billion while saving Medicare approximately $1.9 billion.  Learn more about the performance of ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program from this CMS news release,
  • CMS has announced three new major appointments:   Dr. Ellen Montz as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight; Dr. Natalia Chalmers as its first-ever Chief Dental Officer in the Office of the Administrator; and Dara Corrigan as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity.  Learn more about the new officials and the positions to which they have been appointed in this CMS news release.

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has approved a first-of-its-kind drug-free rehabilitation system intended to treat moderate to severe upper extremity motor deficits associated with chronic ischemic strokes.  Learn more about this new technology and its application in this FDA news release.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH has begun a clinical trial to assess the antibody response to an extra dose of an authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine in people with autoimmune disease who did not respond to an original COVID-19 vaccine regimen.  The trial also will investigate whether pausing immunosuppressive therapy for autoimmune disease improves the antibody response to an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in this population.  Learn more in this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has submitted formal comments to CMS on that agency’s proposed end-stage renal disease (ESRD) prospective payment system for 2022.  Read its letter here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

MACPAC has posted a fact sheet on Medicaid coverage of qualified residential treatment programs for children in foster care.

Stakeholder Event

MedPAC Meeting – September 2 and 3

MedPAC will hold its September public meetings remotely on Thursday, September 2 and Friday, September 3.  To register to view the Thursday, September 2 session (from 1:15 to 5:15 eastern) go here and to register to view the Friday, September 3 session (9:30 until noon eastern) go here.  To see the agenda for the two sessions and find supporting materials, go here.

 

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, July 14

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

CMS – Proposed 2022 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Rule

CMS has released its proposed Medicare physician fee schedule rule for 2022.  Highlights of the proposed rule, which is more than 1700 pages, include:

  • loosening current restrictions on the use of telehealth and expanding its use for behavioral health services;
  • expanding the reach of the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program;
  • requiring clinicians to meet a higher performance threshold to receive incentives under the Quality Payment Program;
  • authorizing physician assistants to bill Medicare directly for the Part B services they provide; and
  • phasing out coinsurance for colorectal screening additional services.

In addition, CMS is soliciting stakeholder feedback on health equity data collection and on current Medicare payments for administering vaccines.

For further information about the proposed physician fee schedule rule, see the following resources:

CMS’s news release announcing the newly proposed rule

a CMS fact sheet

quality program update fact sheet

Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program update fact sheet

the proposed rule itself

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online weekly bulletin.  This week’s edition includes an article about cognitive assessment resources for providers, updated FY 2022 ICD-10-CMS codes, and opportunities for web-based training on aspects of Medicare billing.  For this and more, go here.
  • CMS has announced that it will open a National Coverage Determination (NCD) analysis through which it will review and determine whether Medicare will establish a national Medicare coverage policy for monoclonal antibodies targeting amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  NCDs are program instructions developed by CMS to describe the nation-wide conditions for Medicare coverage for a specific item or service.  This NCD analysis will be applicable to national coverage considerations for aducanumab, which was recently approved by the FDA, as well as any future monoclonal antibodies that target amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  As part of the NCD process, a 30-day public comment period began on July 12.  CMS will host two public listening sessions in July to provide an opportunity for public input.  Learn more from this CMS announcement.
  • CMS has announced that it will distribute $15 million in American Rescue Plan funding to provide community-based mobile crisis intervention services for those with Medicaid.  The $15 million funding opportunity is available to state Medicaid agencies, not providers, for planning grants to support developing these programs.
  • CMS’s Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model assesses whether bridging the gap between clinical care and social services can reduce health care utilization and costs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  In February 2021, CMS hosted its third annual AHC meeting virtually to convene 28 bridge organizations participating in the AHC model and key partners, including community service providers, state Medicaid agencies, and advisory board members.  Meeting participants collaborated and shared insights to sustain their screening, referral, and navigation strategies to address the health-related social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  Learn more about their insights in the brief “Planning for Sustainability and Advancing Health Equity during the Public Health Emergency.

Provider Relief Fund

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • HHS has provided $398 million in American Rescue Plan money through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program to 1540 small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing and mitigation.  See the HHS announcement here, including a list of how much was distributed to hospitals in each state.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of complete lists of all geographic areas, population groups, and facilities designated as primary medical care, dental health, and mental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) as of April 30, 2021.  See the HRSA notice here and find the updated lists of HPSAs here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

Please note that the vaccine’s FAQ and separate fact sheets translated into other languages have not yet been updated.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

  • OMB has published its semi-annual work plan presenting its regulatory priorities in the coming months.  Among the HHS matters listed, in addition to those that occur regularly, are:
    • Streamlining the Medicaid and CHIP Application, Eligibility Determination, Enrollment, and Renewal Processes
    • Medicaid Drug Misclassification, Beneficiary Access Protection, and Drug Program Administration
    • Mandatory Medicaid and CHIP Core Set Reporting
    • Medicaid Managed Care Risk-Sharing Mechanisms
    • Temporary Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) increase under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

See the complete HHS list here.

Stakeholder Events

Thursday, July 15 – Centers for Disease Control

CDC National Call Series on COVID-19-Related Response Strategies

Thursday, July 15 at 2:00 – 3:00 pm ET Click here to join
CDC’s COVID-19 response team conducts a national call weekly to provide state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) partners with timely updates and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and sharing of successful response strategies. Over the summer, these weekly COVID-19 community of practice webinars will focus on topics related to school readiness.

Monday, July 19 – National Emergency Management Association (NEMA)

Mission-Ready Packages Workshop for Resource Providers

Monday, July 19 at 1:00 pm ET  Click here for registration

NEMA is hosting a workshop on developing mission ready packages (MRPs). MRPs are specific response or recovery capabilities that have been created to ensure the skills, capabilities, and associated costs are bundled prior to an emergency or disaster for more efficient deployment. These workshop sessions are designed for resource providers. A resource provider is any organization that is able to deploy under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) and that has capabilities that might be needed during an emergency response. Previous knowledge of EMAC or MRPs is not required.

Tuesday, July 20 – Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

Provider Relief Fund Reporting Requirements

Tuesday, July 20 at 3:00 pm ET

HRSA will host a recorded Reporting Technical Assistance session to provide technical assistance on reporting requirements for Provider Relief Fund recipients and stakeholders.  To register for the July 20 session go here.

Thursday, July 22 – HHS’s Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3)
HC3
Cybersecurity Threat Briefing – Qbot/QakBot

Thursday, July 22 at 1:00 pm ET – Click here for registration

HC3 is holding its second July threat briefing, the topic will be “Qbot/QakBot.”  This webinar will provide actionable information on health sector cybersecurity threats and mitigations.  HC3 analysts will engage in discussions with participants on current threats and highlight best practices and mitigation tactics.

Wednesday, August 4 – Centers for Disease Control

Zoonoses and One Health Update (ZOHU) Call

Wednesday, August 4 at 2:00 – 3:00 pm ETClick here for more information

ZOHU Calls are one-hour monthly webinars that provide timely education on zoonotic and infectious diseases, One Health, antimicrobial resistance, food safety, vector-borne diseases, recent outbreaks, and related health threats at the animal-human-environment interface.

 

CMS Reconsidering Medicare Payment Models

Five Medicare alternative payment models previously slated for implementation are being delayed, cancelled, or reconsidered.

The five APMs whose futures are not clear are:

  • The Community Health Access and Rural Transformation Model ACO Track
  • Primary Care First
  • Kidney Care Choices
  • Geographic Direct Contracting
  • Part D Payment Modernization Model

Learn more about the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ latest actions on these models in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “5 CMS payment models that are under review, delayed.”

MedPAC Reports to Congress

MedPAC has submitted its annual report to Congress.

The congressionally mandated report, titled Report to Congress:  Medicare and the Health Care Delivery System, consists of seven chapters:

  • Realizing the promise of value-based payment in Medicare: an agenda for change.
  • Challenges in maintaining and increasing savings from accountable care organizations (ACOs).
  • Replacing the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program.
  • Mandated report: Impact of changes in the 21st Century Cures Act to risk adjustment for Medicare Advantage enrollees.
  • Realigning incentives in Medicare Part D.
  • Separately payable drugs in the hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS).
  • Improving Medicare’s end-state renal disease (ESRD) prospective payment system (PPS).

While MedPAC’s recommendations are not binding on Congress or the administration, they are highly respected and often find themselves worked into new law or regulations.

Go here to see MedPAC’s news release accompanying the report and here to find the report itself.

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

The issues on MedPAC’s March agenda were:

  • Addressing Medicare Shared Savings Program vulnerabilities
  • The role of specialists in alternative payment models and accountable care organizations
  • Realigning incentives in Medicare Part D
  • Redesigning the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program
  • Mandated report: Impact of changes in the 21st Century Cures Act to risk adjustment for Medicare Advantage enrollees
  • Improving Medicare’s end-stage renal disease prospective payment system
  • Separately payable drugs in the hospital outpatient prospective payment system

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  While its recommendations are not binding on either Congress or the administration, MedPAC is highly influential in governing circles and its recommendations often find their way into legislation, regulations, and new public policy.

Go here for links to the policy briefs and presentations that supported MedPAC’s discussion of these issues.

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

The issues on MedPAC’s January agenda were:

  • The Medicare prescription drug program (Part D):  status report and options for restructuring
  • Redesigning the Medicare Advantage quality program:  initial modeling of a value incentive program
  • Hospital inpatient and outpatient payments
  • Physician payments
  • Outpatient dialysis payments
  • Skilled nursing facility, home health, inpatient rehabilitation facility, and long-term-care hospital payments
  • Hospice and ambulatory surgery center payments
  • The 340B program
  • ACO beneficiary assignment

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  While its recommendations are not binding on either Congress or the administration, MedPAC is highly influential in governing circles and its recommendations often find their way into legislation, regulations, and new public policy.

Go here for links to the policy briefs and presentations that supported MedPAC’s discussion of these issues.

MedPAC Offers Recommendations on FY 2020 Rates, More

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission released its annual report to Congress.  Included in this report are MedPAC’s Medicare rate recommendations for the coming year.  They are:

  • hospital inpatient rates – a two percent increase
  • hospital outpatient rates – a two percent increase
  • physician and other health professional services rates – no update
  • skilled nursing facilities – no 2020 increase
  • home health agencies – a five percent rate reduction
  • inpatient rehabilitation facilities – a five percent rate reduction
  • long-term-care hospital services – a two percent increase
  • hospice services – a two percent rate reduction

MedPAC also recommended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services replace its current array of hospital quality programs with a new, streamlined “hospital value incentive program,” or HVIP, that would replace the Hospital Inpatient Quality Program, the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program, and the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program.

MedPAC’s recommendations are binding on neither the administration nor Congress but its views are highly respected and often find their way into new laws, new policies, and new programs.

Learn more about MedPAC’s annual recommendations to Congress in the full MedPAC report or the MedPAC fact sheet that accompanies the recommendations’ release.

MedPAC Issues 2018 Report to Congress

The non-partisan legislative branch agency that advises Congress and the administration on Medicare payment policies has submitted its mandatory annual report to Congress.

Among the findings included in the report by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission are:

  • Medicare’s hospital readmissions reduction program has not resulted in increases in emergency room visits or hospital observation stays.
  • Many Medicare accountable care organizations, while maintaining or improving quality, are producing more modest savings than predicted.
  • MedPAC approves of Medicare’s proposals to redesign the case-mix classification system for skilled nursing facilities.
  • MedPAC supports changes Medicare has proposed for patient assessment and therapy requirements for skilled nursing facilities.

MedPAC’s recommendations include:

  • Authorizing outpatient-only hospitals in isolated rural communities to ensure access to emergency care.
  • Reducing payments to off-campus emergency departments in certain urban areas.
  • Rebalancing Medicare’s physician fee schedule to increase payments for ambulatory evaluation and management services while reducing payments for procedures, imaging, and tests.
  • Paying for sequential stays in a unified prospective payment system for post-acute care.
  • Establishing new ways to help patients, families, and hospitals identify higher-quality post-acute care providers for their patients.
  • Establishing new principles for measuring quality that address both population-based measures and quality incentives.
  • Encouraging the development of managed care plans that better meet the needs of the dually eligible (Medicare and Medicaid) population.
  • Eliminating Medicare payment increases for skilled nursing facilities in FY 2019 and FY 2020 because of the healthy financial condition of those facilities.
  • Urging Medicare to use a uniform set of population-based measures for different health care settings and different populations.
  • Moving forward with a unified post-acute-care payment system as quickly as possible.

Learn more about MedPAC’s thinking, research, conclusions, and recommendations by consulting the following materials:   the news release that accompanied MedPAC’s transmission of its report to Congress; a fact sheet that accompanied the report’s release; and the 407-page report itself.

ACOs Moving Into Medicaid

Accountable care organizations, one of the centerpieces of recent Medicare efforts to test new ways to deliver care more effectively and at less cost, are finding their way into state Medicaid programs as well.

Today, a dozen states employ Medicaid ACOs and another ten are planning to do so.

Learn more about Medicaid ACOs, and how one state (Minnesota), in particular, is using them, in this Kaiser Health News report.

MedPAC Meets

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met last week in Washington, D.C. to address a number of Medicare reimbursement-related issues.

Among the subjects on MedPAC’s agenda were:

  • using payments to ensure appropriate access to and use of hospital emergency department services
  • uniform outcome measures for post-acute care
  • applying MedPAC’s principles for measuring quality: hospital quality incentives
  • Medicare coverage policy and use of low-value care
  • long-term issues confronting Medicare accountable care organizations
  • managed care plans for dual-eligible beneficiaries

While MedPAC’s policy and payment recommendations are not binding on Congress or the administration, its views are respected and influential and often become the basis for new public policy.

Go here to see the policy briefs and presentations offered to help guide MedPAC commissioners’ discussions about these and other issues.