Innovation Center Unveils Blueprint

The CMS Innovation Center has published a document that shares its strategic direction for the coming years.

Driving Health System Transformation – A Strategy for the CMS Innovation Center’s Second Decade reviews the lessons the agency has learned over the past ten years and lays out its objectives for the next ten:

  • Drive Accountable Care – increase the number of people in a care relationship for quality and total cost of care.
  • Advance Health Equity – embed health equity in every aspect of CMS Innovation Center models and increase focus on underserved populations.
  • Support Care Innovation – leverage a range of supports that enable integrated, person-centered care such as actionable, practice-specific data, technology, dissemination of best practices, peer-to-peer learning collaborations, and payment flexibilities.
  • Improve Access by Addressing Affordability – pursue strategies to address health care prices, affordability, and reduce unnecessary or duplicative care.
  • Partner to Achieve System Transformation – align policies and priorities across CMS and aggressively engage payers, purchasers, providers, states, and beneficiaries to improve quality, to achieve equitable outcomes, and to reduce health care costs.

In addition, the document summarizes the lessons the CMS Innovation Center has learned over the past ten years, outlines future approaches to assessing the agency’s impact, and presents an implementation strategy for the coming years.

Learn more about what the CMS Innovation Center has in mind for providers, payers, and patients in the agency’s new document Driving Health System Transformation – A Strategy for the CMS Innovation Center’s Second Decade and find a summary of the document here.

Changes Coming in Innovation Center Payment Models

Future Medicare payment models will probably feature less risk for participants and a greater emphasis on health equity.

At least that is the vision shared by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services chief operating officer Jon Blum during a recent conference.

While not backing away from including risk in future value-based purchasing models, CMS and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center will probably propose fewer full-risk models, which the agency fears favor wealthier providers that can afford to shoulder more risk to begin with, and a greater focus on reporting race and ethnicity data among future model participants as the federal government works to close equity gaps.

In addition, CMMI will probably simplify its array of payment models and have fewer tracks within those models.

Learn more about the directions CMMI envisions moving with its Medicare alternative pay models in the near future in the Fierce Healthcare article “CMS official:  Don’t expect a lot of fully risk-based payment models going forward.”

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, September 9

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 9.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Congress

  • Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee today introduced their contribution to their party’s anticipated $3.5 trillion dollar spending bill.  Their portion of the reconciliation bill addresses expanding Medicaid in non-expansion states, reducing prescription drug prices, increasing federal spending on home-based care, and more.  Find their summary of their proposals here.

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS’s Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has published a notice explaining how Provider Relief Fund payments can be used for a wide variety of direct and indirect costs of recruiting and retaining personnel during the COVID-19 emergency.  Find the notice here.
  • With the next deadline for health care providers to report on their use of Provider Relief Fund grants coming up on September 30, HRSA will hold an “office hours” web event on Friday, September 10 at 1:00 (eastern) to address issues involving Provider Relief Fund reporting and auditing requirements.  For information about how to join the event and more about reporting and auditing requirements, go here.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra has released a new plan to reduce prescription drug prices.  One of the key policies in this effort is legislation that would enable the Secretary of HHS to negotiate Medicare Part B and Part D drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies and make those prices available to other purchasers.  Learn more about this plan from the HHS announcement, an HHS fact sheet, and the full plan.
  • The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has announced a new Notice of Funding Opportunity to establish Partnership(s) for Enhanced Efforts To Strengthen The Nation’s Healthcare And Public Health Preparedness, Response, And Recovery To Disasters And Other Emergencies.  This program seeks to fund up to seven new cooperative agreements to enable the agency’s broad collaboration with public health and health care sectors and emergency management services to ensure that local governments, communities, private sector entities, non-governmental organizations, academia, and individuals can optimally coordinate their respective national health security roles and responsibilities to achieve community health resilience and strengthen health care, public health, and emergency management systems in preparation of, response to, and recovery from disasters and other emergencies.  $20 million in grants will be awarded, with a maximum grant of $4 million.  The deadline for applications is September 22.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Readiness has updated its information on planning considerations for the administration of monoclonal antibodies.  Find the updated information here.
  • The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Readiness has published guidance to hospitals on how to address a surge of patients with behavioral health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has published a report that describes the complex care needs of beneficiaries hospitalized with COVID-19.  The report focuses on surges in COVID-19 hospitalizations in six localities and builds upon prior OIG work that describes the extent to which hospitals have been strained by COVID-19.  Find the report here.
  • Another report by HHS’s OIG found that the COVID-19 case and death data submitted by nursing homes to the federal government is incomplete and inaccurate despite CMS’s efforts to require such data reporting weekly.  Find the report here.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has posted two new editions of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  Subjects addressed in the September 2 edition include changes in Medicare provider enrollment processes, information about CMS’s planned implementation of its ambulance prior authorization model, the hospice quality reporting program, and more.  Go here to see the September 2 edition of MLN Connects.
  • The September 9 edition of MLN Connects includes information about a payment update on outpatient clinic visit services at excepted off-campus provider-based departments, the Medicare fee-for-service response to the COVID-19 emergency, skilled nursing facility consolidated billing web-based training, and more.  Find the September 9 edition of MLN Connects here.
  • CMS is distributing $452 million in federal funding to support 13 states’ efforts to improve access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance coverage through section 1332 state-based reinsurance waivers.  As a result of changes made in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, residents in states implementing reinsurance waivers may have access to more affordable health insurance coverage.  States also will have more pass-through funding to implement their waiver.  Learn more about the funding, how it will be used, and which states will receive it in this HHS news release.
  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has posted the annual report for its Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model.  Go here to see the annual report and here for more information about and resources for the program.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has revised its guidance on the authorized use of the monoclonal antibodies bamlanivimab and etesevimab when administered together.  The Emergency Use Authorization now authorizes the use of bamlanivimab and etesevimab, administered together, only in states, territories, and U.S. jurisdictions in which recent data shows the combined frequency of variants resistant to bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together is less than or equal to five percent.  The FDA has posted a list of states, territories, and U.S. jurisdictions in which bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together are currently authorized and a list of states, territories, and U.S. jurisdictions in which bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together, are not currently authorized and will periodically update both lists as new data becomes available.
  • The FDA has posted a letter to veterinarians and retailers informing them of the danger of treating people for COVID-19 with animal ivermectin.
  • The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet on September 17 to discuss the Pfizer-BioNTech supplemental Biologics License Application for administration of a third (booster) dose of the Pfizer vaccine to individuals 16 years of age and older.  Learn more here.

National Institutes of Health

  • An investigational HIV vaccine tested in a clinical trial co-sponsored by the NIH posed no safety concerns but did not provide sufficient protection against HIV infection among women, according to a preliminary analysis of the study data.  Learn more from this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has written to CMS to convey its views on CMS’s proposed physician fee schedule and changes to Medicare Part B regulation.  Find its letter here.
  • MedPAC’s commissioners met last week for two days to discuss Medicare payment issues.  During the meetings MedPAC addressed the following issues:
    • The effects of the COVID-19 emergency and considerations on MedPAC’s 2022 assessment of Medicare payment adequacy.
    • Potential reforms of the Part D low-income premium subsidy.
    • A report on designing a value incentive program for post-acute care.
    • A report on the impact of Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 changes to the home health prospective payment system.

For briefs and presentations on these subjects go here; for a transcript of the MedPAC meetings go here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

American Medical Association

  • The AMA has announced eight new CPT codes for COVID-19 vaccine administration.  Learn more from this AMA notice.
  • The AMA has issued its annual update of CPT codes.  The update includes 405 editorial changes, including 249 new codes, 63 deletions, and 93 revisions.  Learn more from this AMA news release.

Stakeholder Event

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

The FDA will hold a workshop entitled “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 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (eastern) and October 14 from 1 p.m. to 4:05 p.m.  For information about participating in the workshop or submitting comments or materials, see this Federal Register notice.

 

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, August 19

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 19.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Provider Relief Fund

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS and the CDC are developing an emergency regulation requiring staff vaccinations within the nation’s more than 15,000 Medicare- and Medicaid-participating nursing homes.  In announcing this new policy, CMS notes that “About 62% of nursing home staff are currently vaccinated as of August 8 nationally, and vaccination among staff at the state level ranges from a high of 88% to a low of 44%.  The emergence of the Delta variant in the United States has driven a rise in cases among nursing home residents from a low of 319 cases on June 27, to 2,696 cases on August 8, with many of the recent outbreaks occurring in facilities located in areas of the United States with the lowest staff vaccination rates.”  Learn more from the CMS announcement.
  • CMS has published a special edition of its online newsletter, MLN Connects, that presents information about codes and payments for the additional doses of COVID-19 vaccinations authorized by the FDA last week for selected at-risk individuals.  The American Medical Association has published similar information.
  • CMS has invited eligible Medicaid managed care organizations to participate in a data-sharing pilot project to facilitate increased care coordination for individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid during the COVID-19 emergency.  This pilot project is open to a maximum of 20 Medicaid managed care organizations that enroll dually eligible beneficiaries.  The application deadline is August 30.  Learn more about the program here.

Health Policy News

  • The Most Favored Nation Model introduced by CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) sought to test a new way to lower prescription drug costs by paying no more for high-cost Medicare Part B drugs and biologicals than the lowest price that drug manufacturers receive in other, similar countries.  In the face of legal challenges that prevented implementation of the program as proposed, CMMI has announced that it will not implement the program without additional rulemaking.  Go here to learn more about the program and its change in status.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of its MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  This week’s edition includes features on updated web-based training on Medicare fraud and abuse prevention, detection, and reporting; webinars on Medicare ground ambulance data collection; updated instructional resources for inpatient rehabilitation facility and long-term-care hospital Quality Reporting Program documents; and more.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • A study by HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has concluded that Medicare pays three times as much for the capital costs of new hospitals during their first two years of existence – an average of $1.3 million a year more – than it pays established hospitals for their capital costs.  The OIG recommended that CMS reevaluate this policy.  CMS concurred with the OIG’s recommendation.  Learn more from the OIG study.
  • HHS has awarded $19 million in grants to 36 recipients to strengthen telehealth services in rural and underserved communities and expand telehealth innovation and quality nation-wide.  Learn more about the specific grant recipients and the purposes for which they received awards in this HHS announcement.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

National Institutes of Health

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Stakeholder Events

Monday, August 23 – CMS

Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment

Monday, August 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (eastern)

CMS’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment will meet virtually to advise the agency about the clinical integrity of the Ambulatory Payment Classification groups and their associated weights and about supervision of hospital outpatient therapeutic services.  The advice provided by the panel will be considered as CMS prepares its annual updates for the hospital outpatient prospective payment system.

The public may participate in this meeting by webinar or teleconference.  Teleconference dial-in and webinar information will appear on the final meeting agenda, which will be posted here when available.

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, August 5

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 5.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Final Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System Regulation for FY 2022

CMS has published its final Medicare inpatient prospective payment system regulation for FY 2022.  Highlights include:

  • An increase in hospital inpatient rates of 2.5 percent and an increase in long-term hospital rates averaging 0.9 percent.
  • The Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) payments uncompensated care allocation has been cut $1.1 billion, to $7.2 billion, with distribution to be based on hospitals’ FY 2018 Medicare cost reports.
  • A reduction of the labor-related share of Medicare payments from 68.3 percent to 67.6 percent.
  • Repeal of the requirement that hospitals report median payer-specific negotiated charges with Medicare Advantage plans on their Medicare cost reports.
  • Extension of the COVID-19 treatment add-on payment through the end of the fiscal year in which the public health emergency ends.
  • A new requirement that hospitals include in their Medicare quality program reporting information about the vaccination status of their staffs.

CMS noted that this regulation is not comprehensive and that it will issue an additional regulation or regulations about the FY 2022 Medicare inpatient prospective payment system in the future.  Among other subjects, this regulation does not address graduate medical education, organ acquisition payment policies, and health equity.  To learn more about this final rule, see the following resources:

CMS’s news release

CMS’s fact sheet

the final rule itself

The White House

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS has updated the “Reporting Requirements and Auditing” section of its Provider Relief Fund web page.  Find the updated web page here.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS has invoked a provision in the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to authorize pharmacy technicians and interns to administer adult flu vaccines.  See the Federal Register notice announcing this policy.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has developed a “COVID-19 Monoclonal Antibody Therapeutics Calculator for Infusion Sites” (mAbs Calculator).  The mAbs Calculator is a free, data-informed decision support tool that is based on a comprehensive simulation framework.  The mAbs Calculator can be used to inform staffing decisions and resource investments needed for COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapeutic infusion sites.  Learn more about this tool here.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has published a guide to resources on the role of medical support services in the response to COVID-19.
  • HHS’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force met recently to consider interim recommendations addressing future pandemic preparedness.  Go here to find a summary of the meeting and links to video of the proceedings.

Health Policy News

  • HHS announced that it is providing nearly $90 million to help rural communities combat opioid use disorders and other forms of substance use disorders and to improve access to maternal and obstetric care.  HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration distributed this money through four programs:  the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program-Psychostimulant Support Program, the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies Program, and the Rural Northern Border Region Planning Program.  Learn more from this HHS announcement.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

  • The CDC has updated its guidance on how families can protect themselves from COVID-19 when they include members who have not been vaccinated or who have compromised immune systems.  Find this updated guidance here.

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

  • The FDA has revised its emergency use authorization for REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab, administered together) to add an authorization of REGEN-COV for emergency use as post-exposure prophylaxis (prevention) for COVID-19 in adults and pediatric individuals (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms) who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.  Learn more here.
  • The FDA has revised its emergency use authorization for baricitinib (sold under the brand name Olumiant), now authorizing baricitinib alone for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized adults and pediatric patients two years of age or older requiring supplemental oxygen, non-invasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Under the revised EUA, baricitinib is no longer required to be administered with remdesivir (Veklury).  Baricitinib is not FDA-approved as a treatment for COVID-19.  Learn more here.
  • The FDA has authorized an extension for the shelf life of the refrigerated Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine, allowing the product to be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius for six months.  Learn more here.

National Institutes of Health

Stakeholder Events

Wednesday, August 11 – CMS

Price Transparency Stakeholder Webinar

Wednesday, August 11 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern)

This webinar will focus on how to meet the requirements of the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule for posting standard charge information in a comprehensive machine-readable file.  For further information about the webinar go here and to register for the webinar go here.

Thursday, August 12 – CMS

Ambulance Open Door Forum

Thursday, August 12 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern)
The subject of this forum is the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System.  Learn about the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System, including current status and activities, information sampled that organizations need to collect and report, and proposed revisions and clarifications in the 2022 physician fee schedule proposed rule.  Go here for further information about the forum and how to participate.

Monday, August 23 – CMS

Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment

Monday, August 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (eastern)

CMS’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment will meet virtually to advise the agency about the clinical integrity of the Ambulatory Payment Classification groups and their associated weights and about supervision of hospital outpatient therapeutic services.  The advice provided by the panel will be considered as CMS prepares its annual updates for the hospital outpatient prospective payment system.

The public may participate in this meeting by webinar or teleconference.  Teleconference dial-in and webinar information will appear on the final meeting agenda, which will be posted here when available.

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, July 22

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 22.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has published its proposed calendar year 2022 Medicare outpatient prospective payment system regulation.  Among other subjects, the proposed regulation addresses hospital outpatient and ambulatory surgery center payment rates, hospital price transparency, the section 340B prescription drug discount program, changes in the inpatient-only list and ambulatory surgery center covered procedures list, changes in the hospital outpatient and surgery center quality reporting programs, the newly created rural emergency hospital provider type, the Radiation Oncology Model, temporary flexibilities implemented to facilitate the response to COVID-19, and more.  Stakeholder comments are due by September 17.  Learn more from the following resources.
  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has updated the web page of its Radiation Oncology Model to reflect changes in the program addressed in the newly published proposed Medicare outpatient prospective payment system regulation.  The updated web page includes links to additional resources about the Radiation Oncology Model.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online weekly bulletin.  This week’s edition includes a description, billing information, a fact sheet, and more for the monoclonal antibody tocilizumab, which recently received FDA emergency authorization for use in treating COVID-19 patients; information on ICD-10-CM codes for FY 2022; a change in the national coverage for a (CAR) T-cell therapy; and more.  For this and more, go here.
  • CMS has published an advisory to alert certain clinicians who are qualifying alternative payment model (APM) participants and eligible to receive APM incentive payments that CMS does not have the current billing information it needs to send them their payments.  The advisory tells these clinicians how to update their billing information to receive their payments.  Affected physicians must submit updated billing information by November 1.  Read the notice here.
  • CMS has released an informational bulletin informing states that the Department of Homeland Security’s  2019 public charge rule has been vacated and is no longer in effect.  The notice explains that effective March 9, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security started applying the 1999 interim field guidance for public charge inadmissibility determinations, which is the policy that was in place before the 2019 public charge final rule.  Under that 1999 guidance, that agency will not consider an individual’s receipt of Medicaid benefits as part of the public charge determination except for individuals who are institutionalized on a long-term basis (such as nursing facility residents) and are receiving Medicaid coverage for their institutional services.  HHS has published a news release with the same information.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS has renewed for 90 days its declaration of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.
  • HHS will spend more than $1.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan to support testing and mitigation measures in high-risk congregate settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and detect and stem potential outbreaks.  $100 million will be spent to expand dedicated testing and mitigation resources for people with mental health and substance use disorders; $80 million will go to support state and local COVID-19 testing and mitigation measures among people experiencing homelessness, residents of congregate settings including group homes and encampments; and $169 million will be spent for testing and mitigation in federal prisons.  Learn more from the HHS news release.
  • HHS has distributed nearly $100 million in American Rescue Plan money to rural health clinics to support outreach efforts to increase vaccinations in their communities.  The funds will go to nearly 2000 Rural Health Clinics, which will use these resources to develop and implement additional vaccine confidence and outreach efforts in medically underserved rural communities.  See HHS’s news release for more information and for a link to a list of how much money was distributed on a state-by-state basis.

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has announced a change in user fees charged to individuals and entities authorized to request information from the National Practitioner Data Bank.  The new fee will be $2.50 for both continuous and one-time queries and $3.00 for self-queries.  Learn more about this increase and other changes in use of the National Practitioner Data Bank in this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has formally accepted Pfizer’s application for full approval of its Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older and has granted the application priority review.  Currently, the vaccine is authorized for emergency use in individuals ages 12 and older.  Learn more here.

Government Accountability Office

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

State Medicaid programs are required to cover certain mental health services for adults while other mental health services are optional.  In a new compendium, MACPAC documents coverage of selected mental health services available to Medicaid beneficiaries in each state and the District of Columbia.  Find a link to the report here.

Stakeholder Events

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.

Monday, August 23 – CMS

Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment

Monday, August 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (eastern)

CMS’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment will meet virtually to advise the agency about the clinical integrity of the Ambulatory Payment Classification groups and their associated weights and about supervision of hospital outpatient therapeutic services.  The advice provided by the panel will be considered as CMS prepares its annual updates for the hospital outpatient prospective payment system.

The public may participate in this meeting by webinar or teleconference.  Teleconference dial-in and webinar information will appear on the final meeting agenda, which will be posted here when available.

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Friday, July 9

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Friday, July 9.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

White House

President Biden has issued an executive order “…to promote competition in the American economy, which will lower prices for families, increase wages for workers, and promote innovation and even faster economic growth.”  Among other things, the executive order calls for closer scrutiny of corporate consolidation, maintaining that such consolidation results in a “…lack of competition [that] drives up prices for consumers.  As fewer large players have controlled more of the market, mark-ups (charges over cost) have tripled.  Families are paying higher prices for necessities – things like prescription drugs, hearing aids, and internet service.”  The order also includes a provision that “… enforcement should focus in particular on labor markets, agricultural markets, healthcare markets (which includes prescription drugs, hospital consolidation, and insurance), and the tech sector.”

In a section on hospitals, the order notes that

Hospital consolidation has left many areas, especially rural communities, without good options for convenient and affordable healthcare service.  Thanks to unchecked mergers, the ten largest healthcare systems now control a quarter of the market.  Since 2010, 139 rural hospitals have shuttered, including a high of 19 last year, in the middle of a healthcare crisis.  Research shows that hospitals in consolidated markets charge far higher prices than hospitals in markets with several competitors.

It also

  • Underscores that hospital mergers can be harmful to patients and encourages the Justice Department and FTC to review and revise their merger guidelines to ensure patients are not harmed by such mergers.
  • Directs HHS to support existing hospital price transparency rules and to finish implementing bipartisan federal legislation to address surprise hospital billing.

Learn more from the White House fact sheet on the executive order, which addresses other aspects of health care as well.

Provider Relief Fund

  • The Provider Relief Fund’s “Reporting Requirements and Auditing” page has been updated with new information about Provider Relief Fund recipient reporting deadlines, requirements, and worksheets.  Find it here.
  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will host recorded Reporting Technical Assistance Sessions to provide technical assistance on reporting requirements for Provider Relief Fund recipients and stakeholders.  For the July 14 session at 3:00 p.m., go here to register and for the July 20 session at 3:00 go here to register.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS has published notice of the extension of the designation issued on February 1, 2021 identifying health and medical resources necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19 that are scarce or the supply of which would be threatened by excessive accumulation by people or entities not needing the excess supplies.  These designated materials are subject to the hoarding prevention measures authorized under Executive Order 13910 and section 102 of the Defense Production Act of 1950.  Learn more from the Federal Register notice.  The notice lists specific items that have had their “scarce” designation removed and others that have not.  The action took effect on July 1 and interested parties have until August 7 to submit comments.

Health Policy News

  • HHS has updated interoperability standards to support the collection and electronic exchange of data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and social determinants of health.  Learn more from HHS’s announcement about this development and from the United States Core Data for Interoperability version 2 (USCDI v2), a standardized set of health data classes and constituent data elements for nation-wide, interoperable health information exchange.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has shared a notice from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the FBI about how multiple managed service providers and their customers can protect themselves from recent supply-chain ransomware attacks leveraging a vulnerability in Kaseya VSA software.  Learn more here.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has developed an infectious disease surge annex tabletop exercise toolkit that can be used by health care coalitions to enhance operational area awareness and capability to effectively address the needs of patients seeking care following exposure to an infectious agent.  Health care coalitions are not required to use this template but it can be used to satisfy funding opportunity announcement requirements for the hospital preparedness program cooperative agreement.  Find the toolkit and links to other resources here.
  • The same HHS office has prepared a home care and hospice emergency operations plan that includes emergency operations plans specific to home care and hospice agencies.

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 updated FAQ about repayment of COVID-19 accelerated and advance payments, including information about how recoupment works and how it affects providers’ Medicare claims payment amounts.  For this and more, including articles on updated HCPCS codes for skilled nursing facilities and updated durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies, go here.
  • CMS has announced the appointment of Dr. Meena Seshamani, M.D., Ph.D. as Deputy Administrator and Director of Center for Medicare.  Dr. Seshamani most recently served as vice president of clinical care transformation at MedStar Health, where she conceptualized, designed, and implemented population health and value-based care initiatives and served on the senior leadership of a health system with 10 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient sites.  Prior to MedStar Health, she was director of the Office of Health Reform at HHS.  Dr. Seshamani received her B.A. with honors in business economics from Brown University, her M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and her Ph.D. in health economics from the University of Oxford.  Learn more from the CMS announcement of the appointment.
  • The CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation’s Financial Alignment Initiative is designed to provide individuals dually enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid with a better care experience and to better align the financial incentives of the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Through this initiative, CMS partners with states to test new models for their effectiveness in accomplishing these goals.  Now, the innovation center has posted evaluation and savings reports from participating states Washington, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, and Virginia.  Find those reports and other information about the program here.

COVID-19

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time. FDA, CDC, and NIH are engaged in a science-based, rigorous process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary. This process takes into account laboratory data, clinical trial data, and cohort data – which can include data from specific pharmaceutical companies, but does not rely on those data exclusively. We continue to review any new data as it becomes available and will keep the public informed. We are prepared for booster doses if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed.

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

  • The FDA has authorized the use, under the emergency use authorization for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, of an additional batch of vaccine drug substance manufactured at the Emergent facility.  Questions had been raised about the safety of the batch but the FDA has investigated and concluded it is safe.  See the FDA announcement of this decision here and the letter the FDA sent to JanssenBiotech explaining its decision.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • MACPAC has responded to the Office of Management and Budget request for information “Methods and Leading Practices for Advancing Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through Government” with a letter that highlights opportunities for CMS and state agencies that jointly operate Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to document specific disparities in health care and develop new opportunities to improve access to and the quality of care beneficiaries receive.  The letter also outlines areas that could be addressed through subregulatory guidance, waiver opportunities, and technical assistance.  Learn more from the MACPAC letter to OMB.

National Institutes of Health

Stakeholder Events

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=UTJMTlZmYzVScmNZamd2d2J4SU92Zz09

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.

Wednesday, July 14 and Tuesday, July 20 – Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

HRSA will host recorded Reporting Technical Assistance Sessions to provide technical assistance on reporting requirements for Provider Relief Fund recipients and stakeholders.  For the July 14 session at 3:00 p.m. go here to register and for the July 20 session at 3:00 p.m. go here to register.

Federal Health Policy Update for Monday, June 28

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Monday, June 28.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Supreme Court Decision in Affordable Care Act Case

  • The Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a case in which insurers unsuccessfully sued to recover reductions in their Affordable Care Act federal cost-sharing reduction payments.

White House

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS and the FDA have paused all distribution of bamlanivimab and etesevimab together and etesevimab alone, to pair with existing supply of bamlanivimab, on a national basis until further notice.  In addition, the FDA has recommended that health care providers nation-wide use alternative authorized monoclonal antibody therapies and not use bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together at this time.  Learn more about why the agencies have taken this action and what they propose as alternatives from this message distributed by HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response,
  • HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has published a report on the impact of COVID-19 on Medicare beneficiaries residing in nursing homes during 2020.  Learn more from the OIG’s announcement and summary of the report and from the OIG report “COVID-19 Had a Devastating Impact on Medicare Beneficiaries in Nursing Homes During 2020.”

Health Policy News

  • HHS and the CDC have awarded 59 jurisdictions with $200 million to bolster support for and enhance the disease intervention specialists workforce.  These awards represent the initial funding of a $1.13 billion investment being made over the next five years under the American Rescue Plan and will provide these jurisdictions, public health programs, and the CDC with support to expand and leverage the work of disease intervention specialists.  Learn more from the CDC’s announcement and find a list of the funding recipients here.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has provided guidance to state Medicaid programs about the circumstances under which health care facilities still operating under their emergency preparedness plans because of COVID-19 will temporarily remain exempt from participating in required full-scale emergency preparedness exercises and testing.  See the CMS guidance letter here.

Health Policy News

  • CMS has announced the appointment of Daniel Tsai as deputy administrator and director of its Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services.  Tsai comes from Massachusetts, where he served as the assistant secretary for MassHealth and state Medicaid director.  Learn more about Tsai and the agency he will help lead in this CMS news release.
  • CMS has released a Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services bulletin to introduce a series of tools and toolkits for states and CMS to use to improve the monitoring and oversight of managed care in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that will help improve beneficiaries’ access to care.  This bulletin also provides guidance setting the content and format of the Annual Managed Care Program Report required by CMS regulations and introduces additional resources and technical assistance toolkits that states can use to improve compliance with managed care standards and requirements.  Learn more from the new CMS bulletin.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online publication.  For articles about updates of the hospital outpatient prospective payment system and the clinical laboratory fee schedule and more, go here.
  • CMS has updated its FAQ on its final rule on interoperability and patient access.  Find the information here.
  • CMS announced that it will provide $20 million in American Rescue Plan money to support state-based marketplaces to improve access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance coverage for consumers in their states.  States can apply for funding to help modernize or update their systems, programs, or technology to comply with federal marketplace requirements.  Learn more about the new funding from this CMS announcement.
  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has announced an anti-kickback safe harbor for CMS-sponsored model patient incentives under the agency’s Maternal Opioid Misuse Model.  Learn more here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • The FDA has approved the drug Pradaxa (dabigatran etexilate), the first oral blood thinning medication for children.  Learn more from this FDA news release.
  • The FDA has issued draft guidance encouraging industry to include patients with incurable cancers (when there is no potential for cure or for prolonged/near normal survival) in cancer clinical trials regardless of whether they have received existing alternative treatment options.  See the FDA announcement of this new policy and the draft guidance itself, which was published in the Federal Register.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  • OSHA has issued an emergency temporary standard to protect health care and health care support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19 in settings where people with COVID-19 are reasonably expected to be present.  Compliance with some of the new requirements is mandatory as of July 6 and compliance with the rest of the requirements is mandatory as of July 21.  Learn more from OSHA’s notice in the Federal Register.

National Institutes of Health

  • NIH director Francis S. Collins and other leaders have outlined their vision for a new science entity, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, that was included in the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget with requested funding of $6.5 billion.  The purpose of the agency is to accelerate biomedical innovation and adoption of technologies and approaches to revolutionize health care and medicine.  Find the NIH announcement and a link to additional information about the agency here.
  • An NIH study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine concludes that “…there were 4.8 undiagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infections for every diagnosed case of COVID-19, and an estimated 16.8 million infections were undiagnosed by mid-July 2020 in the United States.”  Find the study here.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has submitted formal comments to CMS about that agency’s proposed regulation describing how it plans to pay for acute-care hospital and long-term-care hospital inpatient care in FY 2022.  The MedPAC letter addresses limited parts of the proposed regulation.  Go here to see MedPAC’s letter to CMS.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • MACPAC has published a fact sheet with an updated analysis of physician acceptance of new Medicaid patients, including at the state level.  The analysis found that physicians were significantly less likely to accept new patients covered by Medicaid than patients with Medicare or private insurance, although acceptance varied by specialty and by state.  Learn more from the new MACPAC fact sheet “Physician Acceptance of New Medicaid Patients:  Findings from the National Electronic Health Records Survey.”
  • MACPAC has published an issue brief that describes how Medicaid programs can pay for certain housing-related services.  Learn more from the MACPAC issue brief “Medicaid’s Role in Housing.”

Government Accountability Office

Stakeholder Events

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:

  • Tuesday, June 29, 1:00-1:30 pm ET:  Faith-Based Toolkit – Register here
  • Thursday,  July 1, 1:00-2:00 pm ET:  Toolkits for Racial and Ethnic Minority Communities – Register here
  • Thursday, July 8, 1:00-1:30 pm ET:  Older Adults Toolkit – 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.

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.

New Health Care Leaders Share Priorities

New leaders at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation are quickly making their priorities known to health care industry stakeholders.

For new CMS administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, her priority is coverage.  She has declared that “Our focus is going to be on making sure regulations and policies are going to be focused on improving coverage,” and while she hopes that states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs will take advantage of current federal incentives to do so, there is another path to coverage:  “…the public option or other coverage certainly would be a strategy to make sure people in those states have coverage.”

For new CMMI director Liz Fowler, one of her stated objectives is to make more value-based payment models mandatory rather than voluntary, noting that “What we have learned from CMMI models over the past 20 years is that voluntary models [are] subject to risk selection, which has a negative impact on the ability to generate system-level savings.”  To that end, Fowler said she and CMMI are exploring more mandatory models.

Learn more about the directions new federal health care leaders hope to take their operations in the Kaiser Health News article “Expanding Insurance Coverage is Top Priority for New Medicare-Medicaid Chief” and the Fierce Healthcare article “CMMI director:  expect more mandatory value-based care payment models.”

MedPAC Meets

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. last week to discuss various Medicare payment issues.

Among the issues discussed at MedPAC’s April meeting were:

  • Medicare skilled nursing facility value-based purchased program.
  • Medicare alternative payment models (APMs).
  • Medicare Advantage benchmark policy.
  • Medicare indirect medical education (Medicare IME) payments.
  • Medicare vaccine coverage and payments.
  • Medicare payment for prescription drugs prescribed on an outpatient basis.
  • Private equity and Medicare.
  • Medicare clinical laboratory fee schedule.

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving Medicare.  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.  Because so many patients of private safety-net hospitals are insured by Medicare, MedPAC’s deliberations are especially important to those hospitals.

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