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.

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, July 22

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, July 22.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has published its proposed calendar year 2022 Medicare outpatient prospective payment system regulation.  Among other subjects, the proposed regulation addresses hospital outpatient and ambulatory surgery center payment rates, hospital price transparency, the section 340B prescription drug discount program, changes in the inpatient-only list and ambulatory surgery center covered procedures list, changes in the hospital outpatient and surgery center quality reporting programs, the newly created rural emergency hospital provider type, the Radiation Oncology Model, temporary flexibilities implemented to facilitate the response to COVID-19, and more.  Stakeholder comments are due by September 17.  Learn more from the following resources.
  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has updated the web page of its Radiation Oncology Model to reflect changes in the program addressed in the newly published proposed Medicare outpatient prospective payment system regulation.  The updated web page includes links to additional resources about the Radiation Oncology Model.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online weekly bulletin.  This week’s edition includes a description, billing information, a fact sheet, and more for the monoclonal antibody tocilizumab, which recently received FDA emergency authorization for use in treating COVID-19 patients; information on ICD-10-CM codes for FY 2022; a change in the national coverage for a (CAR) T-cell therapy; and more.  For this and more, go here.
  • CMS has published an advisory to alert certain clinicians who are qualifying alternative payment model (APM) participants and eligible to receive APM incentive payments that CMS does not have the current billing information it needs to send them their payments.  The advisory tells these clinicians how to update their billing information to receive their payments.  Affected physicians must submit updated billing information by November 1.  Read the notice here.
  • CMS has released an informational bulletin informing states that the Department of Homeland Security’s  2019 public charge rule has been vacated and is no longer in effect.  The notice explains that effective March 9, 2021, the Department of Homeland Security started applying the 1999 interim field guidance for public charge inadmissibility determinations, which is the policy that was in place before the 2019 public charge final rule.  Under that 1999 guidance, that agency will not consider an individual’s receipt of Medicaid benefits as part of the public charge determination except for individuals who are institutionalized on a long-term basis (such as nursing facility residents) and are receiving Medicaid coverage for their institutional services.  HHS has published a news release with the same information.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS has renewed for 90 days its declaration of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19.
  • HHS will spend more than $1.6 billion from the American Rescue Plan to support testing and mitigation measures in high-risk congregate settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and detect and stem potential outbreaks.  $100 million will be spent to expand dedicated testing and mitigation resources for people with mental health and substance use disorders; $80 million will go to support state and local COVID-19 testing and mitigation measures among people experiencing homelessness, residents of congregate settings including group homes and encampments; and $169 million will be spent for testing and mitigation in federal prisons.  Learn more from the HHS news release.
  • HHS has distributed nearly $100 million in American Rescue Plan money to rural health clinics to support outreach efforts to increase vaccinations in their communities.  The funds will go to nearly 2000 Rural Health Clinics, which will use these resources to develop and implement additional vaccine confidence and outreach efforts in medically underserved rural communities.  See HHS’s news release for more information and for a link to a list of how much money was distributed on a state-by-state basis.

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has announced a change in user fees charged to individuals and entities authorized to request information from the National Practitioner Data Bank.  The new fee will be $2.50 for both continuous and one-time queries and $3.00 for self-queries.  Learn more about this increase and other changes in use of the National Practitioner Data Bank in this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has formally accepted Pfizer’s application for full approval of its Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 in individuals 16 years of age and older and has granted the application priority review.  Currently, the vaccine is authorized for emergency use in individuals ages 12 and older.  Learn more here.

Government Accountability Office

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

State Medicaid programs are required to cover certain mental health services for adults while other mental health services are optional.  In a new compendium, MACPAC documents coverage of selected mental health services available to Medicaid beneficiaries in each state and the District of Columbia.  Find a link to the report here.

Stakeholder Events

Wednesday, August 4 – Centers for Disease Control

Zoonoses and One Health Update (ZOHU) Call

Wednesday, August 4 at 2:00 – 3:00 pm ETClick here for more information

ZOHU Calls are one-hour monthly webinars that provide timely education on zoonotic and infectious diseases, One Health, antimicrobial resistance, food safety, vector-borne diseases, recent outbreaks, and related health threats at the animal-human-environment interface.

Monday, August 23 – CMS

Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment

Monday, August 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (eastern)

CMS’s Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment will meet virtually to advise the agency about the clinical integrity of the Ambulatory Payment Classification groups and their associated weights and about supervision of hospital outpatient therapeutic services.  The advice provided by the panel will be considered as CMS prepares its annual updates for the hospital outpatient prospective payment system.

The public may participate in this meeting by webinar or teleconference.  Teleconference dial-in and webinar information will appear on the final meeting agenda, which will be posted here when available.

 

Off-Again, On-Again Public Charge Rule is Off Again

A federal rule that would have limited immigration to the U.S. for people who might at some point become dependent on public aid programs has been put on hold again by a federal judge.

Implementation of the rule, delayed by several courts and then authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court until the merits of challenges could be heard, was delayed again by a federal court, which said the rule contained “numerous unexplained flaws” that made it “arbitrary and capricious.”

Health care advocates feared the rule would discourage some immigrants to whom the rule does not even apply from seeking to participate in certain public aid programs and even encourage some to whom the rule does not apply to disenroll from the public aid programs, such as Medicaid, in which they are already legally enrolled.  A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs found that the parents of a projected 260,000 children have disenrolled their children from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) because of their fear of the rule’s implications for their families.

NASH has conveyed its opposition to the public charge rule on a number of occasions, including in this 2019 position statement.

Learn more about the rule and this latest court decision in the New York Times article “Trump’s ‘Public Charge’ Immigration Rule Is Vacated by Federal Judge

Public Charge Rule Takes Effect

The “public charge rule” that the administration introduced in 2019, only to have it challenged in the courts, is now being enforced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after a federal court lifted an injunction on its implementation.

The rule authorizes USCIS to deny a green card to any immigrant who receives certain public benefits – such as food stamps, public housing vouchers, welfare, or Medicaid – for more than 12 months within any three-year period.  The expressed purpose of the rule is to deny green cards to individuals who may become dependent on publicly funded services – a so-called “public charge.”

NASH opposed the public charge rule when it was proposed in 2018, expressing concern that many immigrants – including those who are eligible for Medicaid and for whom applying for Medicaid benefits would not jeopardize their immigration status – would choose not to apply for Medicaid and would instead turn to private safety-net hospitals and others like them for care when they are sick or injured, thereby increasing the uncompensated care burden for hospitals that already serve large numbers of uninsured, under-insured, and Medicaid patients.  See NASH’s letter expressing this and other views here and go here for a NASH statement about the public charge rule.

Learn more about the USCIS’s intentions for implementing the public charge rule here and learn more about the latest developments on this issue in the article “Trump administration reimposes ‘public charge’ rule following court victory” in the online publication The Hill.

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.”

 

NASH Unveils 2020 Advocacy Agenda

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has published its 2020 advocacy agenda.

To advance the interests of private safety-net hospitals, in the coming year NASH will:

  • Continue to address the major policy challenges of 2019 that had not been resolved as that year ended:  an extended delay of Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) cuts, surprise medical bills, and prescription drug prices.
  • Respond to administration-driven policies such as the calculation of Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) payments, reduced payments for prescription drugs under the 340B prescription drug discount program, and efforts to reduce Medicaid eligibility and benefits and to limit the means through which states may finance their share of Medicaid payments.
  • Respond to expected judicial decisions addressing the extension of site-neutral Medicare outpatient payments to additional outpatient settings and the implementation of a new public charge regulation.

For a more detailed look at NASH’s advocacy plans for the coming year, see its complete 2020 advocacy agenda.

Supreme Court Lifts Public Charge Rule Ban

The U.S. can now reject visa and green card applicants based on their financial prospects after a new Supreme Court ruling this week.

This ruling has potential long-term implications for health care providers.

Last August a new Department of Homeland Security regulation took effect that authorized the federal government to reject immigrants’ applications for visas and green cards if their financial situation and employment prospects suggested that they might become a “public charge” and dependent on government safety-net programs like Medicaid and food stamps.  A number of groups sued to prevent the rule’s implementation and federal courts imposed an injunction against its enforcement but now the Supreme Court has lifted the last of these injunctions.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, however, did not address the merits of the public charge rule.  Instead, the court concluded that the lower courts that imposed the injunctions had overstepped their authority.  As a result, lower courts will continue to hear individual suits challenging the rule.  Meanwhile, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security will enforce it.

In 2019 the State Department rejected 12,000 visa applications.  In 2016, it rejected only 1000.

The public charge regulation poses a challenge to health care providers amid anecdotal evidence that some immigrants who already are in the U.S. legally and were enrolled in Medicaid withdrew from the program and others who also are in the U.S. legally and are eligible for Medicaid are choosing not to apply for benefits out of a mistaken fear that they or members of their families could be deported.  Over time these practices, if they continue, could leave health care providers with more unpaid bills and a greater uncompensated care burden as they care for individuals who are qualified for Medicaid but decline to enroll in the program and cannot pay their medical bills.

Implementation of the public charge regulation may prove especially challenging for private safety-net hospitals located in areas with large numbers of low-income immigrants.  These hospitals could be at risk for rising amounts of uncompensated care.

Learn more about the public charge issue, the Supreme Court’s decision, and what might happen next in the New York Times article “Supreme Court Allows Trump’s Wealth Test for Green Cards.”

Number of Uninsured Children on the Rise

The number of children insured by Medicaid and CHIP has fallen by more than one million over the past two years after reaching an all-time low (by percentage) in 2016.

Why?  According to the New York Times,

Some state and federal officials have portrayed the drop — 3 percent of enrolled children — as a success story, arguing that more Americans are getting coverage from employers in an improving economy. But there is growing evidence that administrative changes aimed at fighting fraud and waste — and rising fears of deportation in immigrant communities — are pushing large numbers of children out of the programs, and that many of them are now going without coverage. The declines are concentrated in a minority of states; in other places, public coverage has actually increased.  The declines appear to be greatest in states like Texas and Tennessee that subject Medicaid and CHIP eligibility to a higher degree of scrutiny than other states.  Declines also appear to be greater in places with larger numbers of immigrants who are wary of applying for Medicaid and CHIP or remaining in those programs in light of changes in federal “public charge” regulations.

Any increase in the number of uninsured children poses a challenge to private safety-net hospitals because these are the very hospitals to which low-income and uninsured families turn for care – regardless of whether they have health insurance.

Learn more about the various reasons for the decline of enrollment by children in Medicaid and CHIP in the New York Times article “Medicaid Now Covers a Million Fewer Children.”

 

Immigrants Intimidated by New Public Charge Guidelines?

Immigrants served by community health centers appear less inclined than in the past to seek public aid to help them with their medical problems.

And community health center staff believes this is the result of confusion and fear as a result of changing federal immigration policies.

As stated in the Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief “Impact of Shifting Immigration Policy on Medicaid Enrollment and Utilization of Care among Health Center Patients,”

  • Health centers reported that, in recent months, immigrant patients have declined to enroll or reenroll themselves and/or their children in Medicaid for fear of public charge.
  • Health center respondents reported patients are confused about the new rule and are afraid to provide identifying information.
  • According to respondents, the public charge rule is creating a “chilling” effect, leading to decreased enrollment in other programs not subject to public charge.
  • About half of health centers reported a drop in utilization by immigrant patients, especially among pregnant women.
  • Health centers are training staff to answer questions on public charge and are working to ensure access to care for their patients.

This can pose a challenge for private safety-net hospitals:  low-income individuals who avoid public aid programs often end up receiving uncompensated care from those hospitals.

Learn more in the Kaiser Family Foundation issue brief “Impact of Shifting Immigration Policy on Medicaid Enrollment and Utilization of Care among Health Center Patients.”

NASH Seeks Medicaid Exemption From New Public Charge Regulation

Congress should exempt Medicaid enrollment from the criteria in a new federal regulation that defines “public charge” or even overturn that regulation entirely, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has declared in a new position statement.

The new statement, developed to coincide with NASH Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. last week, notes that the fear of being designated a public charge will discourage many immigrants, including those to whom the new regulation does not even apply, from obtaining the medical care they need.  As a result, as many as 13 million legal immigrants are expected to disenroll from Medicaid out of fear of being labeled a public charge or choose not to enroll in the program even though they are entitled to Medicaid benefits.  Those found to be public charges risk losing green card status or even deportation.

Such individuals, NASH believes, will inevitably turn to private safety-net hospitals and others for care when they are sick or injured, placing great financial stress on these hospitals and potentially jeopardizing their ability to serve their communities.  For this reason, NASH has urged Congress to remove Medicaid participation from the criteria defining a public charge or to overturn the new regulation completely.

Learn more in the new NASH position paper “Challenges Posed by the New Public Charge Regulation.”