Safety-Net Hospitals, Others Benefit From Changes in Medicare Readmissions Program

Safety-net hospitals are among the leading beneficiaries of changes implemented this year in Medicare’s  hospital readmissions reduction program.

According to a new study, safety-net, academic, and rural hospitals have enjoyed improved performance under the program since Medicare began organizing hospitals into peer groups based on the proportion of low-income patients they serve rather than simply comparing individual hospital performance to that of all other hospitals.

While the current fiscal year is still under way, it appears that safety-net hospitals will enjoy a collective decline of $22 million in Medicare readmissions penalties while 44.1 percent of teaching hospitals and 43.7 percent of rural hospitals will face smaller penalties than last year.

NASH was one of the leading and most outspoken proponents of leveling the playing field in the readmissions reduction program, encouraging policy-makers to reform the program so it would compare hospital readmission rates among similar hospitals instead of to those of all hospitals.  NASH’s multi-year effort proved successful and private safety-net hospitals are now benefiting from that success.

Learn more about the readmissions reduction program and how changes in that program have significantly altered its outcomes in the JAMA Internal Medicine study “Association of Stratification by Dual Enrollment Status With Financial Penalties in the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.”

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 Commission wrapped up its work on the June 2019 Report to Congress on Medicaid and CHIP at the April meeting, with sessions reviewing four of the report’s five draft chapters on Thursday morning, and votes on potential recommendations later in the afternoon.

First on Thursday’s agenda was a draft June chapter on Medicaid prescription drug policy, which contained draft recommendations to provide states with a grace period to determine Medicaid drug coverage and raise the cap on rebates. The Commission then revisited hospital payment policy, with a draft chapter and recommendation on how to treat third-party payment in the definition of Medicaid shortfall when determining disproportionate share hospital payments. Next, commissioners considered two recommendations proposed as part of a June chapter on improving the effectiveness of Medicaid program integrity. The final morning session addressed the Commission’s proposed recommendation on therapeutic foster care.

The Commission returned from lunch for two presentations discussing preliminary findings of forthcoming congressionally mandated reports. The first afternoon session presented initial findings from a MACPAC review of state Medicaid utilization management policies related to medication-assisted treatment, to be issued in October. The session immediately following presented preliminary findings for a January 2020 study on Medicaid standards for institutions for mental diseases. Both reports are required as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (P.L. 115-271). Votes on June 2019 recommendations closed out the day.

Friday’s sessions opened with a review of the fifth draft chapter slated for June, on Medicaid in Puerto Rico. The second session of the morning reviewed a proposed rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in March to promote interoperability in federal health care programs. The April meeting closed with a review of evaluations of integrated care for dually eligible beneficiaries.

Supporting the discussion were the following presentations:

  1. Review of Draft Chapter for June Report and Recommendations on Prescription Drug Policy: Grace Period and Cap on Rebates
  2. Review of Draft Chapter for June Report and Proposed Medicaid Shortfall Recommendation
  3. Review of Draft Chapter on Improving the Effectiveness of Medicaid Program Integrity and Recommendations
  4. Review of Recommendation for June Report Chapter on Therapeutic Foster Care
  5. Preliminary Findings from Congressionally Mandated Study on Medication-Assisted Treatment Utilization Management Policies
  6. Preliminary Findings on Congressionally Mandated Study on Institutions for Mental Diseases
  7. Review of Draft June Report Chapter on Medicaid in Puerto Rico
  8. Review of Proposed Rule to Promote Interoperability in Federal Health Care Programs
  9. Evaluating Integrated Care: Review of Results from Literature

Because NASH members and private safety-net hospitals serve so many Medicaid patients, MACPAC’s deliberations are especially relevant to them because its recommendations often find their way into future Medicaid and CHIP policies.

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.

 

Delay Medicaid DSH Cuts, Pelosi Says

Medicaid DSH cuts should be delayed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told a gathering of hospital officials.

According to Speaker Pelosi,

DSH cuts threaten to erode the health of community hospitals, safety-net hospitals and rural hospitals, [affecting] the health of not only the families that rely on Medicaid, but any person who relies on these hospitals for care.

NASH has long urged Congress to delay or even eliminate Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts of Medicaid disproportionate share payments, doing so twice in the past week: first in a letter to Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) and then in a message to all House members. NASH believes this cut would be especially harmful for the nation’s private safety-net hospitals.

Learn more about Speaker Pelosi’s remarks in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “House speaker urges Congress to ease Medicaid payment cuts to hospitals serving low-income patients.”

Medicare Advantage Permitted to Address Non-medical Needs

Starting in 2020, Medicare Advantage plans will be permitted to provide non-medical benefits to their chronically ill members.

As described in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ “final call letter’ for 2020,

MA [Medicare Advantage] plans are not prohibited from offering an item or service that can be expected to improve or maintain the health or overall function of an enrollee only while the enrollee is using it.  In other words, the statute does not require that the maintenance or improvement expected from an SSBCI [special supplemental benefits for the chronically ill] result in a permanent change in an enrollee’s condition.  Items and services may include, but are not limited to:  meals furnished to the enrollee beyond a limited basis, transportation for non-medical needs, pest control, air quality equipment and services, and benefits to address social needs, so long as such items and services have a reasonable expectation of improving or maintaining the health or overall function of an individual as it relates to their chronic condition or illness.

The CMS final call letter offers permission to Medicare Advantage plans to offer such services; it does not require them to do so.

Such a policy change could be highly beneficial to many of the low-income patients served by private safety-net hospitals, which have long sought help with addressing the social determinants of health that often bring patients to them but limit their ability to recover from their illnesses and injuries.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “New Medicare Advantage Benefits Offer Social Services to People with Chronic Illness” and see CMS’s “Announcement of Calendar Year (CY) 2020 Medicare Advantage Capitation Rates and Medicare Advantage and Part D Payment Policies and Final Call Letter.”

 

NASH Asks Grassley, Senate Finance Committee to Delay Medicaid DSH Cut

Delay or eliminate the FY 2020 Medicaid disproportionate share payment cut, NASH has asked Senator Charles Grassley in a recent letter.

The cut, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed three times by Congress, was envisioned as an appropriate response to what was expected to be a significant decrease in the number of uninsured Americans as a result of the 2010 health reform law.  In his news release, Senator Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, notes that Congress has delayed implementing this Medicaid DSH cut three times and needs to address the issue definitively.

In its letter, NASH maintains that the Affordable Care Act has not reduced the number of uninsured Americans as much as anticipated, leaving private safety-net hospitals and others still to provide significant amounts of uncompensated care to their low-income and uninsured patients and therefore still in need of their full Medicaid DSH payments.

NASH also argues that uncertainty in the health care arena today – legislative and judicial challenges to the Affordable Care Act, states changing the eligibility criteria and benefits of their Medicaid programs, the instability of health insurance marketplaces, and more – makes this an inappropriate time to reduce payments to safety-net hospitals, possibly jeopardizing access to care in low-income areas as a result.

Learn more by reading Senator Grassley’s news release and NASH’s letter to him.

MedPAC Meets

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

The issues on MedPAC’s April agenda were:

  • Expanding the use of value-based payment in Medicare
  • Medicare Shared Savings Program performance
  • Redesigning the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program
  • Increasing the accuracy and completeness of Medicare Advantage encounter data
  • Evaluating patient functional assessment data reported by post-acute-care providers
  • Options for slowing the growth of Medicare fee-for-service spending for emergency department services
  • Options to increase the affordability of specialty drugs and biologics in Medicare Part D
  • Improving payment for low-volume and isolated outpatient dialysis facilities

Many of these issues are important to private safety-net hospitals.

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.

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

 

Groups Work to Create New Codes for Social Determinants

Social determinants of health could have their own ICD-10 codes if a new initiative from the American Medical Association and United Healthcare succeeds.

The two are working together to develop new ICD-10 codes that would take into consideration social determinants of health such as housing and food security, access to transportation, and ability to pay for medicine.

The project launches at a time when research suggests that social determinants of health can affect nearly 80 percent of health care outcomes.

Private safety-net hospitals struggle more than other hospitals, and must work harder to address, the social determinants of health that play such a major role in the health and well-being of the residents of the low-income communities they serve.

Learn more in the Health Analytics IT article “AMA, UnitedHealth Partner for Social Determinants ICD-10 Project.”

 

New Web Site Shows Maximum 340B Prices

Providers can now see the maximum prices for 340B-covered drugs on a new web site established by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration.

The web site, mandated by Congress after the U.S. Department of Health and Services’ Inspector General found that some providers are being overcharged, will enable 340B-eligible providers to identify the maximum price they can be charged for covered drugs.  This, HRSA believes, will help providers avoid being overcharged in the future.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it a vital tool in helping them serve their low-income communities.

Learn more in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “HRSA launches 340B ceiling price website” and visit the new web site itself (registration required).

Bill Would Enable Foreign-Born Docs to Work in Underserved U.S. Areas

More foreign-born, U.S.-trained doctors would be permitted to remain in the U.S. if they practice in medically underserved areas under a bill unveiled last week in Congress.

Introduced with bipartisan support, the legislation would extend for two years the current “Conrad 30” program that allocates 30 slots to each state so foreign-born doctors can work in medically underserved areas under J-1 visas.  The program, which already exists but will soon expire, permits such physicians to remain in the U.S. for three years after their training ends to work in underserved areas.  The legislation also would establish criteria under which more than 30 such physicians can be employed in a given state.

Many private safety-net hospitals are located in and around medically underserved areas.

To learn more, see the Senate news release from the bill’s sponsors describing their proposal and why they are offering it or see the bill itself.

 

Pressure Off 340B?

Two key House subcommittees will not hold hearings on the controversial 340B prescription drug discount program in the near future.

The chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and its Health Committee have both suggested that House Democrats understand the importance and value of the 340B program and see other health care issues as greater priorities.

This marks a serious departure from the last session of Congress, which saw a number of hearings on the 340B program and doubts cast about the program’s objectives and future.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it a vital resource in their efforts to serve their communities.  NASH has long advocated for the protection of the program, including in this 2018 letter to congressional leaders.

Learn more from the Lexology article “340B Program Gets Relief from Congressional Scrutiny.”