Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, August 26

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 26.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy

  • NASH has written to the chairs and ranking members of the congressional committees of jurisdiction over health care to ask them to prevent the anticipated January 1, 2022 tripling of the current Medicare sequester from two percent to six percent of all provider Medicare payments and to consider the challenges that community safety-net hospitals have long faced, and that they now continue to face to an unprecedented degree, when looking for budget savings to offset new federal spending during upcoming federal budget deliberations.  See NASH’s letter here.

Provider Relief Fund

The White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • Health care providers can now receive additional payments from Medicare for administering vaccines to multiple residents in one home setting or a communal home setting.  Previously, CMS increased Medicare payments for vaccines administered in the home, and now, under this new policy, vaccine providers can receive the increased payment up to five times when fewer than ten Medicare beneficiaries receive the vaccine on the same day in the same home or communal setting.  Learn more from this CMS announcement.
  • CMS has written to Medicare Advantage organizations and Medicare-Medicaid health plans to inform them that in light of the recent surge of the COVID-19 delta variant and increased hospitalizations across the country, it strongly encourages those organizations to waive or relax plan prior authorization requirements and utilization management processes to facilitate the movement of patients from general acute-care hospitals to post-acute care and other clinically-appropriate settings, including skilled nursing facilities, long-term-care hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and home health agencies.  The ability of hospitals to transfer patients to appropriate levels of care without unnecessary delays or administrative burdens, CMS writes, is critical to ensuring that hospitals have open acute-care beds to treat patients requiring emergency care.  See the CMS message here.
  • CMS has updated its Medicare provider enrollment relief FAQ.  Find it here.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • Along with the Department of the Treasury and Department of Labor, HHS is vested with responsibility for implementing the 2020 law that requires health care payers to make available to the public machine-readable files for in-network rates and out-of-network allowed amounts and billed charges for plan years.  That information was to be available publicly by January 1, 2022, but now, the departments have delayed implementation of this requirement for six months.  Learn more from this HHS FAQ.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will award a single grant of $3 million to establish a new Regional Disaster Health Response System site.  It would be part of a tiered system that builds upon and unifies existing assets within states and across regions to support a more coherent, comprehensive, and capable health care disaster response system able to respond health security threats.  Entities eligible for grants include hospitals, local health care facilities, political subdivisions, states, emergency medical services organizations, and emergency management organizations.  Learn more about the funding opportunity here and here and about the Regional Disaster Health Response System here.  Applications are due September 20.
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published a statistical brief on diabetes-related inpatient stays in 2018.

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

  • The FDA has granted its first full (non-emergency use authorization only) approval of a COVID-19 vaccine.  The vaccine that has been known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and will now be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older.  The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.  Learn more from this FDA news release.
  • The FDA has posted updated information about COVID-19 booster shots, including when they will be available, who should get them, and when people should get them.  Find that information here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

  • Under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the public charge ground of inadmissibility as it pertains to applicants for admission to the U.S. and adjustment of status.  The agency has published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to seek broad public feedback on the public charge ground of inadmissibility to the U.S. that will inform its development of a future regulatory proposal.  Find the Federal Register notice here.  Comments are due by October 22.

National Institutes of Health

  • A study funded by the NIH has found that drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco cigarettes throughout the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with nearly three times the risk of late stillbirth compared to women who neither drink nor smoke during pregnancy or quit both before the end of the first trimester.  Learn more from this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has submitted formal comments to CMS in response to CMS’s proposed home health prospective payment system regulation for 2022.  See MedPAC’s comment letter here.

Congressional Research Service

  • The Congressional Research Service has updated its report Finding Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) Payment System Rules:  Schedules and Resources.  Find it here.

 

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.”

 

Proposed Immigration Rule Discouraging Medicaid Enrollment

A proposal by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is discouraging participation in Medicaid and other government safety-net programs.

A proposed Homeland Security regulation would establish new criteria for determining whether individuals seeking admission into the U.S. might eventually become “public charges”:  people who would depend on public resources to meet their needs rather than the resources of friends, family, sponsors, or private organizations or be able to provide for themselves or their families.  Among those criteria are past use of government aid programs and current income and health status.

Since the regulation was proposed last October, many legal immigrants, including those who already have green cards, have grown fearful of its implications and have shied away from seeking assistance from public aid programs and have even chosen to withdraw from programs in which they were already participating.  Among the survey’s findings:

  • 13.7 percent of adults in immigrant families reported family members dropping out of non-cash aid programs.
  • 17.4 percent of adults in immigrant families with children under the age of 19 were more likely to avoid public benefit programs.
  • Among those who reported avoiding public aid programs, 46 percent reported choosing not to participate in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), 42 percent reported someone in their household not participating in Medicaid even though they were eligible for the program, and 33.4 percent did not participate in housing subsidies.

Any withdrawal of legal residents from Medicaid or unwillingness to enroll in the program when eligible could leave hospitals with increased uncompensated care when serving low-income patients who otherwise lack the means to pay for their care.  This could pose a particular challenge for private safety-net hospitals because they serve communities with especially large numbers of low-income residents.

Learn more about the proposed public charge regulation and its apparent impact on participation in government safety-net programs among legal immigrants in the Urban Institute report “With Public Charge Rule Looming, One in Seven Adults in Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefit Programs in 2018.”