MFAR is Dead

At least for now.

The controversial Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation, slated for implementation this fall over the objections of many health care stakeholders, will not move forward at this time.

In a tweet earlier this week, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma wrote that

We’ve listened closely to concerns that have been raised by our state and provider partners about potential unintended consequences of the proposed rule, which require further study.  Therefore, CMS is withdrawing the rule from the regulatory agenda.

If implemented, opponents maintained, the regulation would have:

  • Deprived states of important, established policy-making prerogatives.
  • Created major new administrative burdens for state governments and hospitals.
  • Inappropriately regulated financing of the state share of Medicaid spending.
  • Introduced new, unspecified standards for state Medicaid programs.

While CMS maintained that MFAR would have enhanced the transparency of state Medicaid programs, the rule’s opponents maintained that it could lead to a major reduction of resources for serving the Medicaid population.

NASH was among those opponents, arguing that the regulation could have hurt private safety-net hospitals and others that serve low-income communities by inappropriately regulating how states can finance their Medicaid programs.  CMS proposed the rule last November and  submitted formal comments expressing its opposition in January and endorsed legislation to prohibit the rule’s implementation in July.

It is worth noting that in “withdrawing the rule from the regulatory agenda,” Verma did not preclude the possibility of reintroducing MFAR at some point in the future.

Learn more from article “Trump administration backing off Medicaid rule that states warned would lead to cuts” in the online publication The Hill.

 

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 Endorses Bill to Delay MFAR

Implementation of the Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation, opposed by NASH and many others since its introduction in November of 2019, would be delayed under a new bill proposed in the House of Representatives.

The MFAR Transparency Act (HR 7606), sponsored by representatives Roger Williams (R-TX) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), would delay implementation of the MFAR rule until the Government Accountability Office had an opportunity to assess its impact on individual states and identify the Medicaid transparency issues that need to be addressed.

Most important, the bill would prevent implementation of MFAR without specific authorization from Congress.

In a letter to the bill’s sponsors endorsing their proposal, NASH wrote that “The MFAR rule could jeopardize access to care for millions of Americans.”

NASH first expressed its opposition to the MFAR rule in a January letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  Read its endorsement of the Williams-Johnson bill here.

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.

 

NASH Applauds HHS Movement Toward Extending Public Health Emergency

NASH has thanked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar for his department’s public indication that it intends to extend the COVID-19 public health emergency.

With the declaration of a public health emergency has become regulatory flexibilities that have enabled private safety-net hospitals and other providers to do a better job serving their patients and their communities in the current, challenging environment.

See NASH’s letter here.

Coronavirus Update: March 31, 2020

Coronavirus Update: March 31, 2020.

Yesterday the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a major update of Medicare and Medicaid regulations that included blanket waivers of a large number of Medicare and Medicaid regulations and requirements.  The following is a summary of the major aspects of this new regulation.

New Policies and Waivers From Medicare and Medicaid Regulations and Requirements

CMS has introduced dozens of changes that involve waivers from current regulations and requirements.  A comprehensive, 26-page CMS document describing these changes can be found here and below are the highlights organized into four broad categories:

  • increasing hospital capacity (what CMS calls “hospitals without walls”)
  • expanding the health care workforce
  • increasing the use of telehealth in Medicare
  • reducing paperwork

Increasing Hospital Capacity

  • CMS is waiving the enforcement of section 1867(a) of EMTALA to permit hospitals to screen patients at off-site locations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • CMS is waiving certain requirements under the Medicare conditions of participation allow for flexibilities during hospital and psychiatric hospital surges, permitting non-hospital buildings/space to be used for patient care and quarantine sites.
  • For the duration of the public health emergency, CMS is waiving certain requirements under the Medicare conditions of participation and the provider-based department requirements to permit hospitals to establish and operate as part of the hospital any location meeting those conditions of participation for hospitals that continue to apply during the public health emergency. This waiver also permits hospitals to change the status of their current provider-based department locations to the extent necessary to address the needs of hospital patients.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to permit acute-care hospitals to house acute-care inpatients in excluded distinct part units, such as excluded distinct part unit inpatient rehabilitation facilities or inpatient psychiatric facilities, where the distinct part unit’s beds are appropriate for acute-care inpatients.
  • CMS is permitting acute-care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient psychiatric units to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part psychiatric unit to acute-care beds and units as a result of a disaster or emergency.
  • CMS is permitting acute-care hospitals with excluded distinct part inpatient rehabilitation units that, as a result of a disaster or emergency, need to relocate inpatients from the excluded distinct part rehabilitation unit to an acute-care bed and unit.
  • CMS is waiving certain physical environment requirements. Provided that the state has approved the location as one that sufficiently addresses safety and comfort for patients and staff, CMS is waiving requirements to allow for a non-skilled nursing facility building to be temporarily certified and available for use by a skilled nursing facility in the event there are needs for isolation processes for COVID-19-positive residents, which may not be feasible in the existing skilled nursing facility structure to ensure care and services during treatment for COVID-19 are available while protecting other vulnerable adults.
  • CMS is waiving certain conditions of participation and certification requirements for opening a nursing facility if the state determines there is a need to quickly stand up a temporary COVID-19 isolation and treatment location.
  • CMS is waiving requirements to temporarily allow for rooms in a long-term care facility not normally used as a resident’s room to be used to accommodate beds and residents for resident care in emergencies and situations needed to help with surge capacity.

Expanding the Health Care Workforce

  • CMS is waiving current requirements to permit physicians whose privileges will expire to continue practicing at the hospital and for new physicians to be able to practice before full medical staff/governing body review and approval to address workforce concerns related to COVID-19.  CMS also is waiving requirements about details of the credentialing and privileging process.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that Medicare patients be under the care of a physician.
  • CMS is waiving requirements that a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) work under the supervision of a physician. CRNA supervision will be at the discretion of the hospital and state law.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that a skilled nursing facility and nursing facility may not employ anyone for longer than four months unless they meet current training and certification requirements. CMS is not waiving the requirement that such facilities ensure that nurse aides are able to demonstrate competency in skills and techniques necessary to care for residents’ needs.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that physicians and non-physician practitioners must perform in-person visits for nursing home residents and will permit visits to be conducted, as appropriate, via telehealth options.
  • CMS is temporarily waiving requirements that out-of-state practitioners be licensed in the state where they are providing services when they are licensed in another state. CMS will waive the physician or non-physician practitioner licensing requirements when the following four conditions are met:
    • must be enrolled as such in the Medicare program;
    • must possess a valid license to practice in the state which relates to his or her Medicare enrollment;
    • is furnishing services – whether in person or via telehealth – in a state in which the emergency is occurring to contribute to relief efforts in his or her professional capacity; and,
    • is not affirmatively excluded from practice in the state or any other state that is part of the 1135 emergency area.
    • This does not have the effect of waiving state or local licensure requirements or any requirement specified by the state or a local government as a condition for waiving its licensure requirements.
  • CMS has a toll-free hotline for physicians and non-physician practitioners and Part A-certified providers and suppliers establishing isolation facilities to enroll and receive temporary Medicare billing privileges. CMS is waiving the following screening requirements:
    • application fee,
    • criminal background checks associated with fingerprint-based criminal background checks,
    • site visits,
    • postpone all revalidation actions,
    • allow licensed providers to render services outside of their state of enrollment,
    • expedite any pending or new applications from providers,
    • allow physicians and other practitioners to render telehealth services from their home without reporting their home address on their Medicare enrollment while continuing to bill from their currently enrolled location, and
    • allow opted-out physicians and non-physician practitioners to terminate their opt-out status early and enroll in Medicare to provide care to more patients.
  • CMS has issued blanket waivers of sanctions under the Stark Act.  The blanket waivers may be used now without notifying CMS.  Individual waivers of sanctions under section 1877(g) of the Act may be granted upon request.  For more information, go here and here.

Increasing the Use of Telehealth in Medicare

  • CMS is waiving the requirement that physicians and non-physician practitioners must perform in-person visits for nursing home residents and will permit visits to be conducted, as appropriate, via telehealth options.
  • Clinicians can provide virtual check-in services to new and established patients.
  • CMS will pay for telephone evaluation and management services provided by physicians and the same services provided by qualified non-physician health care providers. These services may be used for telephone-only evaluation and management services.
  • Licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists can perform e-visits via telehealth.
  • Limits have been lifted for subsequent inpatient visits, subsequent skilled nursing visits, and critical care consult codes.
  • Physicians may provide supervision virtually using real-time audio/visual technology for services that require direct supervision by a physician or other type of practitioner.
  • For additional information on new flexibilities in the use of telehealth for Medicare patients, go here.

Reducing Paperwork

  • CMS is waiving various requirements that limit and define the use and documentation of verbal orders in a hospital.
  • CMS is waiving reporting requirements when patients who have passed away required soft restraints prior to their death.  If restraints were a factor in the death, the usual reporting requirements apply.
  • CMS is waiving the current requirements for providing “detailed information” in discharge planning as long as discharging hospitals continue to provide the data patients and their families need to make decisions about appropriate post-acute care.  This does not waive the requirement that patients have all of the necessary medical information they need for their post-acute setting.
  • While maintaining the discharge planning requirements that ensure that patients are discharged to an appropriate setting with the necessary medical information, CMS is waiving some of the specific components of discharge information acute-care hospitals are ordinarily required to provide.
  • CMS is waiving requirements involving the organization and staffing of medical records departments and requirements for the form and content of medical records and is allowing for flexibility in completion of medical records within 30 days following discharge from a hospital.
  • CMS is waiving the requirements for hospitals to provide information about their advance directive policies to patients.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid must have a utilization review plan that meets specified requirements. CMS is waiving the entire utilization review condition of participation.
  • CMS is waiving – for “surge facilities” only – the requirement that the emergency services function operate according to written policies and procedures during surge periods.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that hospital emergency preparedness policies and procedures include specified elements for the emergency preparedness communication plans of hospitals when a hospital is a surge site.
  • CMS is waiving requirements for hospital quality assessment and performance improvement programs that address the scope of the program, the incorporation and setting of priorities for the program’s performance improvement activities, and integrated quality assurance and performance improvement programs. The requirement that hospitals maintain an effective, ongoing, hospital-wide, data-driven quality assessment and performance improvement program remains.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement that providers must have a current therapeutic diet manual approved by the dietitian and medical staff readily available to all medical, nursing, and food service personnel. Such manuals would not need to be maintained at surge capacity sites.
  • CMS is waiving the requirement for nursing staffs to develop and keep current a nursing care plan for each patient and to have policies and procedures in place establishing which outpatient departments are not required to have a registered nurse present.
  • Completed 2019 Occupational Mix Surveys, Hospital Reporting Form CMS-10079, for the Wage Index Beginning FY 2022, are due to the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). CMS is granting an extension for hospitals nationwide affected by COVID-19 until August 3, 2020.
  • CMS is waiving requirements that govern pre-admission screening and annual resident review (PASARR) to permit states and nursing homes to suspend these assessments for new residents for 30 days. After 30 days, new patients admitted to nursing homes with a mental illness or intellectual disability should receive the assessment as soon as resources become available.
  • CMS is waiving many paperwork requirements for home health agencies, skilled nursing facilities, nursing facilities, end-stage renal dialysis facilities, home health agencies, and hospices. Find those changes here (pages 9-16).
  • Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) and Qualified Independent Contractors (QICs) in the fee-for-service program may allow extensions to file an appeal. CMS is allowing MACs and QICs in the fee-for-service program and the MA and Part D independent review entities (IREs) to:
    • waive requests for timeliness requirements for additional information to adjudicate appeals;
    • process appeals even with incomplete appointment of representation forms;
    • process requests for appeals that do not meet the required elements using information that is available; and
    • use all flexibilities available in the appeal process if good cause requirements are satisfied.

Others

  • CMS offers stakeholders examples of section 1135 waivers available to individual providers.  Find those examples here beginning on page 23.
  • CMS is waiving certain patient rights involving copies of medical records, patient visitation limits, and quarantine processes in states that have had more than 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

For further information:

To learn more about these changes, you may wish to consult the following resources:

The following is the latest information from the administration and federal regulators as of 4:30 today.

The White House

President Trump has issued a presidential memorandum to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Homeland Security authorizing the use of the National Guard to provide COVID-19-related services to the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan, with the federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost of such a deployment.  The federal assumption of 100 percent of this cost expires in 30 days.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Department of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services has posted a news release in which it outlines the steps it has taken and will be taking to accelerate clinical trials for possible COVID-19 vaccines and to prepare for the manufacture of approved vaccines.

U.S. Public Health Service

The U.S. Public Health Service has issued a letter on optimizing ventilator use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food and Drug Administration

To receive this daily update directly, sign up for our mailing list at info@safetynetalliance.org.

NASH Opposes Proposed 340B Data Collection

The federal government should not require hospitals to submit new data on their acquisition costs for prescription drugs they dispense to low-income patients through the section 340B prescription drug discount program, NASH has told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In a formal comment letter in response to new data collection requirements proposed by CMS last month, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals wrote on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that

The 340B program was created by Congress to enable hospitals (and other providers) that serve low-income communities to maximize their resources when working to serve those communities. The program helps improve access to high-cost prescription drugs for low-income patients and helps put additional resources into the hands of qualified providers so those providers can do more for their low-income patients: provide more care that their patients might otherwise not be able to afford, offer more services that might otherwise be unavailable to such patients, and do more outreach into communities consisting primarily of low-income residents. This was the purpose of the 340B program when Congress created it in 1992 and Congress has not modified that purpose since that time. NASH believes that through this proposed data collection CMS is seeking to exert authority it does not have to demand of providers information to which the agency is not entitled.

In the letter, NASH also objected that the proposed data collection would be costly and burdensome for hospitals and is premature because the courts are still considering challenges to CMS’s authority to reduce 340B payments to providers; the latter is why CMS seeks this data.

Go here to see NASH’s formal comment letter to CMS.

MFAR Backlash Continues

Diverse health care and government interests are rallying around their opposition to the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability rule.

The regulation, proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in November would impose new limits on the ability of states to finance their share of their Medicaid spending, potentially jeopardizing provider payments and the ability of high-volume Medicaid providers to operate without suffering great losses.

In all, CMS received more than 4200 written comments in response to the proposed regulation, most of them expressing opposition.  Among those doing so were state governments, the National Governors Association, hospitals and hospital associations, nursing home operators, and health advocacy organizations.  Also among them was the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals.  In summarizing its opposition, NASH wrote in a formal comment letter to CMS on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that

While NASH supports greater transparency in Medicaid, that support is outweighed by too many troubling aspects of the proposed regulation. In this letter, NASH is especially interested in commenting on five aspects of the proposed regulation: how it would deprive states of important, established policy-making prerogatives; its creation of major new administrative burdens for state governments and for hospitals; its inappropriate regulation of financing of the state share of Medicaid spending; its proposed introduction of new, unspecified standards that state Medicaid programs would be held accountable for meeting; and its violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

See NASH’s entire letter here.

Learn more about the Medicaid fiscal accountability rule, what it seeks to do, and why so many oppose in the Stateline article “Medical Groups Slam Trump Medicaid Rule.”

Supreme Court Paves Way for Public Charge Regulation

The revised public charge regulation that will make it more difficult for some immigrants to come to the U.S. will be implemented after the Supreme Court lifted preliminary injunctions issued by lower courts that delayed the regulation’s implementation.

Under revisions of the public charge regulation introduced last year, individuals seeking entry into the U.S. and green cards who do not appear to be financially independent or have employment commitments can be denied entry if they will be dependent on means-tested public aid programs such as Medicaid or food stamps or even if they, or members of their family, appear likely to become dependent on such aid in the near future.

A number of judges throughout the country blocked the administration’s implementation of revisions of the public charge rule.  The Supreme Court’s action only lifts those injunction; it does not address the constitutionality of the regulation, leaving that matter to continue to be addressed by lower courts for now.

The challenge posed to health care providers by the updated public charge regulation is as much a matter of perception as reality:  individuals already legally in the U.S. who are not subject to the regulation have withdrawn from Medicaid out of fear of deportation while others who also are in the country legally and qualify for Medicaid are choosing not to apply for benefits for the same reason.  This, in turn, may leave some providers with more uncompensated care instead of Medicaid reimbursement for the care they provide to some of their patients.

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has conveyed its opposition to the public charge regulation to both Congress and the administration.  In a message to Congress, NASH wrote that “The new public charge regulation threatens the health of families and communities and threatens the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve those families and those communities.”  In response to the proposed changes in the regulation, NASH wrote in a formal comment letter on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that it

…believes the proposed regulation could have a chilling effect on the willingness of many legal citizens and legal non-citizens to seek out government health care programs for which they legally qualify. This could lead to millions of low-income legal citizens and legal non-citizens choosing not to seek the care to which they are entitled by law and ignoring serious illnesses and injuries until they become a crisis. When such individuals have no choice but to turn to hospital emergency departments in search of care – something hospital emergency departments are required by law to provide regardless of a patient’s ability to pay – this could overwhelm those facilities and would do so to the detriment of other patients while also producing a surge of uncompensated care, especially for private safety-net hospitals. That, in turn, could jeopardize the jobs of thousands who work in those hospitals and the economies of the communities in which those hospitals are located. It could also jeopardize access to care for residents of these same communities – including ordinary people who receive their health care coverage from private insurers and Medicare.

See NASH’s entire comment letter here.

Learn more about the Supreme Court’s decision and how it affects implementation of the public charge regulation in the New York Times article “Supreme Court Allows Trump’s Wealth Test for Green Cards.”

 

Fitch: Medicaid Block Grants, MFAR Threaten States, Providers

Medicaid block grants and the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation (MFAR) pose new financial threats to providers and states, according to Fitch Ratings, the financial rating company.

MFAR poses the greater threat, Fitch believes, noting in a new analysis that it could

…reduce total Medicaid spending nationally by $37 billion and $44 billion annually…and by $23 billion to $30 billion for hospitals alone.  States, and to some extent providers, would respond to MFAR’s implementation with measures to mitigate the negative fiscal implications.

Block grants, through what has been named the Healthy Adult Opportunity program, also pose a threat, with Fitch explaining that

Capping federal Medicaid contributions, even for a subset of beneficiaries, poses risks to state budgets and those entities reliant on state funding, including local governments and providers.  States would need to find revenue or cost savings, either in Medicaid or elsewhere, to offset reduced federal contributions.

Because private safety-net hospitals care for more Medicaid patients than the typical hospital, both proposed policy changes have a potentially greater impact on them.

Last month NASH conveyed its opposition to the proposed MFAR regulation in a formal comment letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in response to the regulation’s publication late last year.  While NASH has not commented publicly about the Healthy Adult Opportunity program, it has long been concerned about a block grant approach to Medicaid funding, writing in its 2019 advocacy agenda that

Block grants, whether based on individual states’ Medicaid enrollment or on their past Medicaid spending, could impose unreasonable limits on Medicaid spending that could potentially leave private safety-net hospitals unreimbursed for care they provide to legitimately eligible individuals. NASH will work to ensure that any new approach that involves Medicaid block grant continues to give states the ability to pay safety-net hospitals adequately for the essential services they provide to the low-income residents of the communities in which those hospitals are located.

Learn more about the potential impact of the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation and Medicaid block grants in the Fitch Ratings analysis “Fitch Rtgs: Medicaid Changes Will Affect States, NFP Healthcare Providers.”