Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, December 16

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, December 16.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is releasing $9 billion in phase 4 Provider Relief Fund grants.  Payments will average $58,000 for what HHS is calling “small” providers, $289,000 for medium providers, and $1.7 million for large providers.  Learn more about the release of these funds from this HHS news release and go here for an explanation of how the agency calculated the payments.  The remainder of Phase 4 funding is expected to be distributed in January.
  • HRSA has updated its FAQ for its provider relief programs:  the Provider Relief Fund and American Rescue Plan rural payments.  The updated FAQ includes new information about reporting on mergers and acquisitions, reporting patient metrics, reporting on state and federal tax credits, and more.  The 12 new and modified questions, all dated 12/9/2021, can be found on pages 3, 10, 14, 15, 18, 34, and 36 of the updated Provider Relief Fund FAQ.

The White House

  • The Biden administration has issued an executive order on “Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government.”  The portion of the executive order that addresses health care directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to:
    • continue to design and deliver new, personalized online tools and expanded customer support options for Medicare enrollees;
    • strengthen requirements for maternal health quality measurement, including measuring perinatal quality and patient care experiences, and evaluating the measurements by race and ethnicity to aim to better identify inequities in maternal health care delivery and outcomes;
      to the maximum extent permitted by law, support coordination between benefit programs to ensure applicants and beneficiaries in one program are automatically enrolled in other programs for which they are eligible;
    • to the maximum extent permitted by law, support streamlining State enrollment and renewal processes and removing barriers, including by eliminating face-to-face interview requirements and requiring prepopulated electronic renewal forms, to ensure eligible individuals are automatically enrolled in and retain access to critical benefit programs;
    • develop guidance for entities regulated pursuant to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) on providing telehealth in compliance with HIPAA rules, to improve patient experience and convenience following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
    • test methods to automate patient access to electronic prenatal, birth, and postpartum health records (including lab results, genetic tests, ultrasound images, and clinical notes) to improve patient experiences in maternity care, health outcomes, and equity.
  • The White House has posted transcripts of December 10 and December 15 briefings given by its COVID-19 response team and public officials.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has updated its COVID-19 Medicare provider enrollment relief FAQ.  Find the updated FAQ here.  These updates are intended in part to assist both new providers and those that have temporarily expanded their facilities.

Health Policy Update

  • CMS has published a new edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter of information about Medicare payments.  The latest edition includes articles about the two percent Medicare sequester that Congress recently delayed, changes in Medicare Advantage monoclonal antibody claims that take effect on January 1, changes in telehealth fees for originating sites, payments for opioid treatments, and more.  Go here to see the latest edition of MLN Connects.
  • CMS has sent a letter to state Medicaid directors to help them understand new requirements related to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which established new requirements for state Medicaid programs, including new reporting requirements for non-disproportionate share hospitals (Medicaid DSH) supplemental payments and a change in the methodology for calculating the hospital-specific DSH limit.   Find that letter here.
  • CMS has sent a letter to state Medicaid directors urging them to encourage hospitals to consider implementation of evidence-based best practices for the management of obstetric emergencies, along with interventions to address other key contributors to maternal health disparities, to support the delivery of equitable, high-quality care for all pregnant and postpartum individuals.  The letter reminds Medicaid directors that beginning with October 1, 2021 discharges, CMS adopted a new structural quality measure for the Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting (IQR) Program that asks hospitals to attest to whether they participate in a state-wide and/or national maternal safety quality collaborative and whether they have implemented patient safety practices or bundles to improve maternal outcomes.  Find the CMS letter here.  CMS has reinforced this message with this news release.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy Update

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has published a discussion paper about 3D printing medical devices at the point of care, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices.  The purpose of the paper is to gather feedback from the public to inform future policy development.  Find the FDA announcement here and the discussion paper here.  The deadline for submitting comments is February 8.

National Institutes of Health

  • The percentage of adolescents reporting substance use decreased significantly in 2021, according to the latest results from the NIH’s “Monitoring the Future” survey of substance use behaviors and related attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders in the United States.  In line with continued long-term declines in the use of many illicit substances among adolescents previously reported by the Monitoring the Future survey, these findings represent the largest one-year decrease in overall illicit drug use reported since the survey began in 1975.   Learn more from this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met virtually last week.  Among the subjects MedPAC commissioners and staff discussed were hospital inpatient services, hospital outpatient services, physician services, ambulatory surgical center services, outpatient dialysis, hospice care, skilled nursing facilities, home health, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and long-term-care hospitals.  Go here to find the meeting presentations on these subjects and go here to see a transcript of the meetings.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • Members of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission met virtually last week.  Among the subjects MACPAC commissioners and staff discussed were directed payments in Medicaid managed care, “money follows the person” program residency criteria, monitoring access to care for Medicaid beneficiaries, behavioral health services, health equity, and nursing facility staffing issues.  For a summary of the meeting and links to the presentations made during the two days of meetings, go here.
  • MACPAC has released the 2021 edition of the MACStats:  Medicaid and CHIP Data Book, with updated data on national and state Medicaid CHIP enrollment, spending, benefits, and beneficiaries’ health, service use, and access to care.  Find this year’s data book here.

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

  • The CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Rescue Plan all appropriate funds to address behavioral health challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act requires the GAO to report on the challenges these funds are addressing and the effect they are having.  The GAO’s findings can be found in its new report “Behavioral Health and COVID-19:  Higher Risk Populations and Related Federal Relief Fund.  Find a summary of the report here and the full report here.

NASH Asks Congress for COVID-19 Aid

NASH has written to Congress to request additional COVID-19 legislation between now and the end of the year to help private safety-net hospitals respond to the health care and financial challenges posed by the pandemic.

In its letter, NASH asked Congress for:

  • additional funding for the Provider Relief Fund for assistance to hospitals;
  • extension of the temporary moratorium on continued implementation of the 2011 Budget Control Act’s Medicare sequestration; and
  • the suspension of any other federal cuts for health care providers, such as the scheduled reduction of Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allocations to the states.

Read NASH’s message to Congress.

Schumer: Block Medicaid DSH Cuts

Congress should block scheduled Medicaid DSH cuts.

That’s the message Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer sent during a recent appearance in upstate New York.

“At a time when we need to be supporting our hospitals with robust funding to help them keep their doors open and doctors available, threatening them with substantial cuts to essential funding is fundamentally wrong,” Schumer said, speaking of cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share payments (Medicaid DSH) mandated by the Affordable Care Act, delayed many times by Congress, but now scheduled to take effect when the current continuing resolution funding the federal government expires on December 11.

The Medicaid DSH program was created to help hospitals that care for especially large numbers of low-income and uninsured patients – like America’s private safety-net hospitals.  The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has long called for delaying Medicaid DSH cuts and most recently urged Congress to eliminate the Medicaid DSH cut entirely, writing in a letter to members of Congress that

Private safety-net hospitals and others like them, serving communities with large numbers of low-income and uninsured residents, have never needed the resources afforded by Medicaid DSH more than they do today.  Congress has long questioned the wisdom of this cut and has never permitted it to take effect. The most recent delay expires December 11, and NASH urges you to repeal permanently the Medicaid DSH cut in any spending or COVID-19 legislation you pass this year.

To learn more about Senator Schumer’s perspective on Medicaid DSH, see the Troy Record article “Schumer calls for reversal of devastating hospital cuts.”

 

NASH Seeks Help From End-of-Year Legislation

Eliminate Medicaid disproportionate share hospital cuts (Medicaid DSH), appropriate additional resources for the Provider Relief Fund, and extend the current suspension of the two percent sequestration of Medicare spending, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals asked members of Congress in a letter NASH sent yesterday.

The request comes as Congress returns to Washington to take up the funding of the federal government at a time when authorization for spending under a continuing resolution ends on December 11.  In addition to addressing federal funding, Congress also may consider COVID-19 legislation.

Learn more from NASH’s letter to Congress.

MACPAC Meets

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission met for two days last week in Washington, D.C.

The following is MACPAC’s own summary of the sessions.

The October 2020 MACPAC meeting opened with a panel discussion on restarting Medicaid eligibility redeterminations when the public health emergency ends.  It included Jennifer Wagner, director of Medicaid eligibility and enrollment at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; René Mollow, deputy director for health care benefits and eligibility at the California Department of Health Care Services; and Lee Guice, director of policy and operations at the Department for Medicaid Services, Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

After a break, Commissioners heard a panel discussion with Kevin Prindiville, executive director at Justice in Aging; Mark Miller, executive vice president of healthcare at Arnold Ventures; and Charlene Frizzera, senior advisor at Leavitt Partners, on creating a new program for dually eligible beneficiaries. Later, staff presented preliminary findings from a mandated report on non-emergency medical transportation. The day concluded with a report on nursing facility acuity adjustment methods.

On Friday, the day began with a session on access to mental health services for adults in Medicaid. It was followed by a related panel discussion on mental health services with Sandra Wilkniss, director of complex care policy and senior fellow at Families USA; Melisa Byrd, senior deputy director for the District of Columbia Department of Health Care Finance; and Dorn Schuffman, director of the CCBHC Demonstration Project at the Missouri Department of Mental Health.

Next, the Commission considered the merits of extending Medicaid coverage for pregnant women beyond 60 days postpartum. Staff then provided an update on a statutorily required analysis of disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotments, as well as an analysis of addressing high-cost drugs and the challenges they present to Medicaid.

The meeting concluded with comment on the Secretary’s report to Congress on Reducing Barriers to Furnishing Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Services Using Telehealth and Remote Patient Monitoring for Pediatric Populations under Medicaid. The Commission decided to send a letter to Congress and the Secretary commenting on this report.

Supporting the discussion were the following briefing papers:

  1. Mandated Report on Non-Emergency Medical Transportation: Work Plan and Preliminary Findings
  2. Changes in Nursing Facility Acuity Adjustment Methods
  3. Access to Mental Health Services for Adults in Medicaid
  4. Considerations in Extending Postpartum Coverage
  5. Required Annual Analysis of Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) Allotments
  6. Addressing High-Cost Drugs and Pipeline Analysis
  7. Comment on Secretary’s Report to Congress on Reducing Barriers to Substance Use Disorder Services Using Telehealth for Pediatric Populations under Medicaid

Because they serve so many Medicaid and CHIP patients – more than the typical hospital – MACPAC’s deliberations are especially important to private safety-net hospitals.

MACPAC is a non-partisan legislative branch agency that provides policy and data analysis and makes recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of the U.S. Department  of Health and Human Services, and the states on a wide variety of issues affecting Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.  Find its web site here.

Congress Gives Hospitals Medicaid DSH Relief

Medicaid DSH allocations to states will not be reduced right away thanks to a new continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 11.

The Medicare disproportionate share allocation cuts to the states, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed by Congress several times, were delayed again earlier this year but scheduled to take effect on November 11.  With the latest continuing resolution, the cuts will be delayed yet another month.

Learn more about the delay of Medicaid DSH cuts and other aspects of the continuing resolution that affect hospitals in the Healthcare Dive article “Providers win Medicare loan extension, DSH relief but lose other asks in stop-gap spending law.”

Coronavirus Update for Wednesday, September 23

The following is the latest COVID-19 information from the federal government as 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23.

Continuing Resolution to Fund the Federal Government

  • The House has passed, and the Senate is expected to take up and pass as soon as this week, a continuing resolution to fund the federal government from the beginning of the new fiscal year, on October 1, through December 11; the president is expected to sign the measure.  Key health care provisions in this continuing resolution include:
    • Changes in the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program that extend the period before repayment begins and the period before the balance must be repaid in full; reduce the recoupment percentage; and lower the interest rates for this and comparable programs.
    • A delay in the Affordable Care Act-mandated reduction of Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to the states through December 11.
    • Extended funding for Community Health Centers, the National Health Services Corps, and the Teaching Health Centers Graduate Medical Education Program through December 11.
    • Extended funding for the Special Diabetes Program through December 11.
    • Extended authorization for the certified community behavioral health clinics demonstration program through December 11.
    • Clarification that drugs and biologicals used for medication-assisted treatment, which must be covered by Medicaid beginning on October 1, will continue to be eligible for rebates under the Medicaid program.

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS’s Provider Relief Fund FAQ has been updated with four new questions that address nursing home quality payments.  The new questions, all marked “Added 9/18/2020,” can be found on pages 46 through 48 of the FAQ.

Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

  • On Thursday, September 24 at 4:00 (eastern), CMS and CDC will hold a “CMS-CDC Fundamentals of COVID-19 Prevention for Nursing Home Management Call.”  Go here for information on how to register and submit questions.

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has updated the question-and-answer appendix in its guidance “Conduct of Clinical Trials of Medical Products during COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  The updated guidance includes a new question and answer about a clinical trial investigator’s responsibility to review all investigational new drug application safety reports, including reports that will not result in a change of the investigator brochure, informed consent, or protocol.

Federal Reserve System

  • The Federal Reserve System has updated its FAQs for the Main Street Lending Program, which supports lending to small and medium-sized for-profit businesses and non-profit organizations that were in sound financial condition before the COVID-19 pandemic but lack access to credit on reasonable terms.  Go here for the announcement of the updated FAQs and for links to the FAQs themselves.

Eliminate Medicaid DSH Cut, NASH Asks Congress

A Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government in FY 2021 should eliminate a cut in Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to the states, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has written in a letter to congressional leaders.

The cut was mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act but has never been implemented.

In its letter to congressional leaders, NASH wrote that

The Medicaid DSH cut was predicated on the expectation that the Affordable Care Act would greatly reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and while it has, millions remain uninsured. Just this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of Americans without health insurance rose in 2019 – for the third consecutive year – and the job loss associated with COVID-19 is expected to continue this trend in 2020. As a result, private safety-net hospitals and others like them, serving communities with large numbers of low-income and uninsured residents, have never needed the resources afforded by Medicaid DSH more than they do today. Congress has always questioned the wisdom of this cut and has never allowed those cuts to go into effect. The most recent delay expires after November 30.

Learn more from NASH’s Medicaid DSH letter to congressional leaders.

CMS Provides Guidance on Medicaid DSH Calculations

State Medicaid program accounting for hospital uncompensated care when calculating hospital-specific Medicaid disproportionate share limits is the subject of new guidance from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In the guidance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services explains that because of several court rulings, states can decide for themselves whether to offset third-party payer payments from costs in their Medicaid DSH calculations for periods prior to June 2, 2017 but that beginning with that date,  CMS will enforce its own interpretation of the policy.

In new guidance, CMS presents two methodologies for accounting for its mid-year policy change and reminds stakeholders about its new methodology for calculations after June 2, 2017.  Learn more from this Medicaid notice and from its accompanying CMS informational bulletin “Treatment of Third Party Payers (TPP) in Calculating Uncompensated Care Costs (UCC).”

NASH Asks Senate for COVID-19 Help

Private safety-net hospitals need help with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 public health emergency, NASH wrote yesterday in a letter to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Charles Schumer.

In its letter, NASH asked for:

  • An additional $100 billion for hospitals.
  • Forgiveness for money provided to hospitals through the federal CARES Act’s Accelerated and Advance Payment Program.
  • Action to prevent implementation of the Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation.
  • An increase in the federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP).
  • An increase in states’ Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments.
  • A moratorium on changes in hospital eligibility for the 340B prescription drug discount program, Medicare indirect medical education program, Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) program, and other programs.

See NASH’s letter here.