Medicaid DSH Cut Delayed

Scheduled cuts in Medicaid DSH payments to hospitals will be delayed until at least late May under new federal spending legislation.

The cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share allotments to the states, mandated by the Affordable Care Act and delayed several times by Congress – including twice in FY 2020 alone under continuing resolutions to fund the federal government – are among a number of so-called “extenders” included in spending bills passed by Congress this week and sent to the president for his signature.

Authorization for delaying the cut in allotments to the states, which would have resulted in reduced Medicaid DSH payments for many hospitals – including private safety-net hospitals – would expire on May 22.  Congress is expected to address Medicaid DSH, along with surprise medical bills, the price of prescription drugs, and other health care matters, before that time.

NASH has argued against Medicaid DSH cuts for a number of years, doing so most recently in this September 2019 position statement in which it observed that

The conditions that led Congress to believe Medicaid DSH payments could be reduced significantly without harming the health care safety net have not unfolded entirely as anticipated. While many Americans have taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act to obtain health insurance, millions remain uninsured…

NASH also noted that

…any decline now in Medicaid DSH payments could lead to an increase in the provision of charity care, possibly forcing hospitals to reduce services, limit community outreach, and even reduce staff. Such measures could jeopardize access to care not only for hospitals’ uninsured and low-income patients but also for their privately insured, Medicare, and Medicaid patients as well.

Learn more about the delay in Medicaid DSH cuts and other aspects of this recent health care spending legislation in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “Congress unveils $1.3T spending deal: 5 healthcare takeaways.”

 

A Look at Surprise Medical Bill Legislation

While Congress’s decision this week to put off addressing the surprise medical bill challenge until next year has disappointed many, that decision did not reflect any lack of ideas for what to do.

At last count, various parts of Congress were considering four major surprise medical bill proposals:  one from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one from the House Ways and Means Committee, and a compromise proposal from the Senate HELP and House Energy and Commerce committees.  Some have been around for some time while one emerged only in the past week.

The Commonwealth Fund has prepared a summary of the four proposals that includes a chart that compares where they stand on six major aspects of surprise billing legislation:

  • The medical settings to which the legislation would apply.
  • Whether they hold consumers harmless for surprise bills.
  • Whether they ban balance-billing.
  • How – or if – they establish standard rates.
  • How they resolve disputes between insurers and providers.
  • How they interact with existing state surprise medical bill laws.

NASH conveyed its perspective on surprise medical bills in a message to Congress last week.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “Update on Federal Surprise Billing Legislation: Understanding a Flurry of New Proposals.”

NASH Conveys End-of-Year Priorities to Congress

Preventing Medicaid DSH cuts, a fair approach to protecting patients from surprise medical bills, and reducing prescription drug costs are among the policy positions that the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals recently shared with Congress.

In its message to Congress, NASH also asked lawmakers to protect 340B prescription drug discounts for private safety-net hospitals and to preserve dedicated funding for community health centers, the National Health Service Corps, and the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education.

Learn more about NASH’s end-of-year policy priorities from the message “Protect Safety-Net Hospitals and the Communities They Serve in Upcoming Budget and Legislative Deliberations” that NASH delivered yesterday to all 535 members of Congress.

Hospital Groups Critical of CMS 340B Proposal

The federal government should not survey providers to determine their costs for drugs covered by the section 340B prescription drug discount program, hospitals and hospital groups have told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Their comments came in response to a regulation CMS proposed in September that would require hospitals to report their acquisition costs for 340B-covered drugs.  CMS proposed such data collection after federal courts ruled against its attempt to reduce 340B reimbursement to hospitals that participate in the program.  Among the court’s objections were CMS’s lack of data about those drug acquisition costs.

Among the reasons hospitals conveyed in expressing their opposition were the cost of reporting the data in question; the design of the survey; the flawed premise underlying the survey; and the proposed rule’s requirement that all hospitals complete the survey and not just those that participate in the 340B program.

Among the groups criticizing the proposed regulation were the Association of American Medical Colleges, which wrote in its comment letter that

Congress did not design the 340B program to pay hospitals at acquisition costs…Congress designed the program so that eligible hospitals could purchase covered drugs at a discounted rate below the Medicare reimbursement rate and use the difference to reach more eligible patients and provide more comprehensive services.

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals was among the groups commenting on the proposed regulation.  Writing on behalf of private safety-net hospitals, NASH observed in its November 27, 2019 formal comment letter 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 done nothing to modify that purpose since that time:  it has not directed that special assistance to qualified providers be reduced; it has not insisted that participating providers document the expenditure of their savings in service to their communities; and it most certainly has not dictated that 340B payments to eligible providers be reduced so that payments to non-340B providers could be increased.  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.

Learn more about hospital industry opposition to the proposed 340B regulation in the Fierce Healthcare article “Hospitals blast CMS’ proposed 340B survey.”

Hospitals Sue Over Hospital Price Transparency Requirement

The federal government should be prohibited from implementing its new price transparency requirement for hospitals, a group of hospital trade groups and health systems has declared in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The requirement exceeds the federal government’s authority, the suit maintains, and its implementation would create an undue burden on hospitals, cost a great deal of money, require hospitals to divulge proprietary information, inhibit competition, and overwhelm their information systems.  Even after all of that, the suit claims, consumers would still not have useful information because insurers, not hospitals, are the key in determining what consumers pay for the care they receive.

In response to the suit, an HHS spokesman, according to the online publication Healthcare Dive, said that

Hospitals should be ashamed that they aren’t willing to provide American patients the cost of a service before they purchase it.

NASH conveyed its opposition to the price transparency requirement in a September 26, 2019 letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in response to that agency’s proposed outpatient prospective payment system regulation, which included the transparency requirement.

The requirement will take effect on January 1, 2021.  The hospital groups and systems that filed the suit have asked the court for a prompt ruling.

Learn more in the Healthcare Dive article “Hospitals sue HHS, warning price transparency rule would chill competition, crash computers.”

 

Back Off 340B Data Collection, NASH Tells CMS

The federal government should not impose a new, major data reporting requirement on 340B-eligible hospitals to support the implementation of a new policy that federal courts twice have rejected, NASH told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week.

In formal comments in response to a CMS proposal to require hospitals that participate in the section 340B prescription drug discount program to provide CMS with extensive data on their acquisition costs for 340B drugs, NASH wrote that such data collection would be burdensome; that CMS should not be reducing 340B payments to providers because such a policy decision falls solely within the purview of Congress, which created the program; and that instead of focusing on just this one aspect of the court’s rejection of its attempts to reduce 340B payments, CMS should instead focus on the court’s order that the agency develop a means of reimbursing hospitals for the lost 340B payments Medicare has withheld from providers for the past two years.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and count on the resources the program generates to help them provide additional services to the low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

Learn more about why NASH objects to CMS’s planned data reporting requirement in NASH’s formal comment letter to CMS.

Medicaid Block Grants Hit Bump in Road

The drive toward encouraging states to implement Medicaid block grants hit a bump in the road last week when the formal guidance for states that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma suggested was imminent apparently became not-so imminent.

At the time Verma spoke, draft guidance from CMS to the states was under review by the federal Office of Management and Budget.  Last week, however, CMS withdrew that draft, which also was to address state Medicaid per capita cap programs.

The bump in the road does not, however, appear to be more than a temporary detour.  While CMS has not explained why the draft was withdrawn, Verma indicated that the agency still intends to provide guidance to state on Medicaid block grants and per capita spending limits.

NASH has long had concerns about Medicaid block grants, 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 from the McKnight’s Long-Term Care News article “CMS withdraws proposed guidance on Medicaid block grants, funding caps.”

Medicaid Expansion Brings Improvements to Expansion States

States that expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act have experienced fewer hospital admissions, shorter lengths of stays in the hospital, and lower hospital costs, according to a new Health Affairs study.

Specifically, they experienced:

  • a 3.1 percent decline in inpatient days
  • a 3.5 percent decrease in discharges for conditions considered “ambulatory care-sensitive,” such as diabetes, chronic respiratory problems, and pneumonia
  • a reduction of nearly three percent in hospital costs.

NASH has long supported Medicaid expansion, which has enabled private safety-net hospitals to serve their communities more effectively.

Learn more about how Medicaid expansion has improved the health of the population in states that expanded their Medicaid programs in the Health Affairs study “Medicaid Expansion Associated With Reductions in Preventable Hospitalizations.”

Safety-Net Hospitals Gird for Loss of Medicaid DSH Money

Safety-net hospitals and others will lose a significant portion of their Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) payments on November 22 unless Congress delays implementation of the cut in those payments that was mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

And hospitals that receive these payments are now preparing for the worst.

The Medicaid DSH cut was included in the 2010 health care reform law in anticipation of a great reduction in the number of uninsured people leaving hospitals providing much less uncompensated care and therefore not in need of as much DSH money.  The law’s reach has not proven to be as great as anticipated, however, and two developments since the law’s passage have put a damper on the expected rise in the number of insured Americans:  a court decision that made it optional for states to expand their Medicaid program and the repeal of the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance.

Four times Congress has voted to delay the Medicaid DSH cut because so many people remained uninsured.  Now, however, the most recent delay in implementation of the cut, via a provision in the continuing resolution currently funding the federal government, expires on November 21, and hospitals – many of them already with razor-thin margins – are preparing for the worst:  a major reduction of their federal Medicaid DSH money.

NASH has asked Congress to delay the implementation of Medicaid DSH cuts on numerous occasions, citing their potential impact on the ability of private-safety-net hospitals to serve their communities.  NASH most recently made this request in September, urging members of Congress to support the continuing bipartisan effort to delay the cut.

Learn more about the prospect of a major Medicaid DSH cut later this month, how it might affect safety-net hospitals – including the kinds of private safety-net hospitals represented by NASH – and what some hospitals are doing to prepare for the possibility in the Stateline article “Rural and Safety Net Hospitals Prepare for Cut in Federal Support.”

Court Upholds Delay of Medicare Site-Neutral Payment Cut

Medicare cannot proceed with its plan to pay for outpatient care on a site-neutral basis while it appeals a court ruling rejecting that policy, a federal court has ruled.

A federal judge found that Medicare has not articulated an adequate reason to delay the $380 million a year in site-neutral payment cuts while the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services appeals the September decision rejecting the payment policy change.  The court also found that, contrary to CMS’s claim, Medicare still has an appropriate methodology for making payments that are not site-neutral and that the agency has not proved that it would suffer irreparable harm if the cuts are delayed while it considers CMS’s appeal.

The cut took effect on January 1, 2019 but the court did not address how Medicare should compensate hospitals for lost payments, instead ordering CMS and the plaintiffs in the case to submit reports on how the payment shortfalls can best be addressed.

NASH has opposed implementation of the site-neutral payment policy on several occasions in recent years, doing so most recently in its letter last month to CMS (scroll down to page 5) about the agency’s proposed policy for paying for Medicare-covered outpatient services for 2020.

Learn more about the Medicare site-neutral payment cut and why the federal court again ruled against that cut in the Fierce Healthcare article “Judge denies bid to preserve site-neutral payment cuts while awaiting appeal.”