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
- 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
- HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has established an additional comment period for an updated HRSA-supported women’s preventive services guidelines statement on breastfeeding services and supplies. This subject was part of a broader HRSA notice published in August that addressed well-women preventive visits, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and breastfeeding services and supplies, but HRSA has decided to update the latter and now invites additional comments, the deadline for which is December 20. Learn more from HRSA’s notice in the Federal Register.
- HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has published a new statistical brief: “Most Frequent Reasons for Emergency Department Visits, 2018.”
- AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project has published a new statistical brief: “Changes in Hospitalizations and In-Hospital Deaths for Adults Aged 65 Years and Older in the Initial Period of the COVID-19 Pandemic (April-September 2020), 13 States.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The CDC has updated its information about COVID-19 variants in general and the omicron variant in particular and also has posted a technical report on the omicron variant.
- It also has updated its information about COVID-19 vaccines in general, about communicating with people about vaccines, and about the Moderna vaccine while the FDA has updated its fact sheets for those who administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and those who receive that vaccine or care for someone who has.
- The CDC has updated its information and guidance about COVID-19 vaccines for people with disabilities, for people with underlying medical conditions, for older adults, and for people at increased risk of exposure to the virus and its information about selected adverse effects people have experienced after receiving vaccines.
- The CDC has updated its laboratory biosafety guidelines for handling and processing specimens associated with COVID-19.
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.