GAO: Feds Need Better Oversight of 340B Eligibility

The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring that non-government hospital participants in the 340B prescription drug discount program are eligible for that program, the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in a recent report.

With growing numbers of non-government hospitals now participating in the 340B program, the GAO found that the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program, is not doing enough to ensure that these hospitals meet the criteria for inclusion in the program.  In particular, the GAO found, HRSA needs to do more to ensure that such hospitals have valid contracts with state or local governments to care for low-income patients who qualify for 340B assistance with the cost of prescription drugs.  In particular, the GAO believes HRSA relies too much on hospitals’ own attestations that they have such contracts.

The GAO recommended a number of steps to ensure that hospitals truly are eligible to participate in the 340B program, including better and more frequent review of hospitals’ contracts with state or local governments.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it an essential tool in serving the low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

Learn more about the problems the GAO found with HRSA’s management of non-government hospitals’ eligibility for the 340B program and how it recommends that HRSA address those problems in the GAO report “340B Drug Discount Program:  Increased Oversight Needed to Ensure Nongovernmental Hospitals Meet Eligibility Requirements

Medicare Money for Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant Training?

Should Medicare offer graduate medical education money for nurse practitioner and physician assistant training?

That was the subject of a recent inquiry by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In a new report inspired by concern over the current physician shortage and the belief that making greater use of nurse practitioners might help relieve that shortage, the GAO examined whether expanding Medicare’s graduate medical education (GME) program to include resources for the training of nurse practitioners and physician assistants was practical or possible.  As part of its research, the GAO reviewed current literature, interviewed officials of professional associations, and explored the financial and academic implications of a greater federal role in the training of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

The possibility of GME funding for nurse practitioner and physician assistant training would be of great interest to the many private safety-net hospitals that have medical education programs.

Read about what the GAO learned in its new report Views on Expanding Medicare Graduate Medical Education Funding to Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants

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.”

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 Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission kicked off its December meeting with highlights from its forthcoming issue of MACStats: Medicaid and CHIP Data Book, due out December 18, 2019. MACStats brings together statistics on Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment and spending, federal matching rates, eligibility levels, and access to care measures, which come from multiple sources.

Later the Commission discussed a proposed rule that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued in November, which—among other changes—would increase federal oversight of Medicaid supplemental payments. The final morning session addressed payment error rates in Medicaid, with a briefing on the annual Department of Health and Human Services Agency Financial Report (AFR). Fiscal year 2019 was the first time that the AFR incorporated eligibility errors since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid eligibility and enrollment changes took effect in 2014.

After lunch, MACPAC staff summarized themes from expert roundtables convened in November, one to explore Medicaid policy on high-cost specialty drugs and another on the need for more actionable Section 1115 demonstration evaluations. Then, the Commission turned its attention to Medicaid estate recovery policies. The final session of the day looked at issues associated with reforming the current Medicaid financing structure to better respond to economic downturns.

At Friday’s opening session, the Commission considered policy options to increase participation in Medicare Savings Programs, which provide Medicare cost-sharing assistance to beneficiaries who are dually eligible for Medicaid and Medicare. Afterward, the Commission continued its examination of care integration for dually eligible beneficiaries, this time focusing on policy options to reduce barriers to integrated care. The Commission then switched gears for a briefing on a new MACPAC analysis of Medicaid’s role in financing maternity care. The December meeting concluded with a review of the draft chapter for the Commission’s March report to Congress analyzing disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments.

Supporting the discussion were the following briefing papers:

  1. MACStats: Medicaid and CHIP Data Book
  2. Review of Proposed Rule on Supplemental Payments and Financing
  3. Review of PERM Findings
  4. Themes from Expert Roundtable on Medicaid Policy on High-Cost Drugs
  5. Improving the Quality and Timeliness of Section 1115 Demonstration Evaluations: Themes from Expert Roundtable
  6. Medicaid Estate Recovery Policies
  7. Policy and Design Issues for a Countercyclical Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage
  8. Medicare Savings Programs Policy Options
  9. Barriers to Integrated Care for Dually Eligible Beneficiaries
  10. Medicaid’s Role in Financing Maternity Care
  11. Review of Draft Chapter on Statutorily Required Analyses of Disproportionate Share Hospital Payment

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.

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.

Prescription Drug Bill Would Kill Two Years of Medicaid DSH Cuts

Two years of Medicaid DSH cuts would be eliminated under a new prescription drug bill released last week by the Senate Finance Committee.

The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act includes a provision that would eliminate two years of Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts in the allocation of federal money to the states for Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH).  Those cuts have been delayed several times by Congress but were scheduled to begin in October of 2019 and run through federal FY 2025, only to be delayed again twice by continuing resolutions adopted by Congress to fund the federal government in the absence of enacted appropriations bills.

Under this proposal, the first two years of Medicaid DSH cuts would be eliminated entirely and the cut then would take effect from FY 2022 through FY 2025 – only four of the six years worth of cuts anticipated by the Affordable Care Act.

The legislation also would bring other changes to the Medicaid DSH program, including new reporting requirements on the non-Medicaid DSH supplemental payments hospitals receive from their state governments; changes in Medicaid shortfall and third-party payment policies; and a GAO study and report on hospital uncompensated care costs.

All private safety-net hospitals receive Medicaid DSH payments and consider them critical to serving the many Medicaid-covered and uninsured residents of the low-income communities in which they are located.

Go here to see the proposed legislation.

MedPAC Meeting Transcript Now Available

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C.  Among the Medicare payment issues on its agenda of interest to private safety-net hospitals were:

  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Physician and other health professional services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Ambulatory surgical center services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Hospital inpatient and outpatient services;
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Skilled nursing facility services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Home health care services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Inpatient rehabilitation facility services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Long-term care hospital services

A transcript of that MedPAC meeting is now available.  Find it here.

MedPAC Meets

Last week the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission met in Washington, D.C. to discuss a number of Medicare payment issues.

Among the issues on MedPAC’s December agenda that were of special interest to private safety-net hospitals were:

  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Physician and other health professional services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Ambulatory surgical center services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Hospital inpatient and outpatient services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Home health care services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Inpatient rehabilitation facility services
  • Assessing payment adequacy and updating payments: Long-term care hospital services

MedPAC is an independent congressional agency that advises Congress on issues involving the Medicare program.  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 – policies that often have a major impact on private safety-net hospitals.

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

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.”