Federal Health Policy Update for Monday, December 6

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Monday, December 6.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy

  • NASH has submitted formal comments to the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of the Treasury, and federal Office of Personnel Management in response to those agencies’ publication of a second regulation describing how the No Surprises Act will be implemented. In its letter NASH focuses on problems with the manner in which providers will be required to prepare good-faith estimates for those seeking care without benefit of insurance, the regulation’s Independent Dispute Resolution process, and the manner in which the regulation addresses resolving fee disputes between providers and patients.  NASH raises concerns about all of these processes, suggests better approaches to addressing them, and asks the federal agencies to suspend enforcement of the new requirements while they consider ways to improve the current approach to implementing the surprise billing law that was enacted late last year.  Go here to read NASH’s comment letter.

The White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has announced that it will require states to cover COVID-19 vaccine counseling during which health care providers talk to families about the importance of vaccines for children. Under this policy CMS will now consider certain COVID-19 vaccine counseling visits for children and youth to be COVID-19 vaccine administration for which state expenditures can be federally matched at 100 percent through the last day of the first quarter that begins one year after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  CMS will match COVID-19 vaccine counseling-only visits at the 100 percent federal match rate only when they are provided to children and youth under age 21 as part of the Medicaid Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit.  Learn more from this CMS news release.
  • CMS has announced a series of steps it will take to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Read about these steps in this CMS news release.

Health Policy Update

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy Update

  • A new HHS report found a significant increase in the use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, with specialists like behavioral health providers seeing the highest telehealth utilization relative to other providers. The report found that the share of Medicare visits conducted through telehealth in 2020 increased 63-fold, from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million.  States with the highest use of telehealth in 2020 included Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut while states with the lowest use of telehealth that year were Tennessee, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The report also identified trends in the kinds of services Medicare beneficiaries sought through telehealth.  Learn more from this HHS news release and go here to see the report itself.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

Stakeholder Events

CMS – Open Door Forum on No Surprises Act – December 8

CMS will host an open door forum to discuss provider requirements under the No Surprises Act on Wednesday, December 8 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern).  The forum will be held by conference call only and interested parties can dial into the event at 1-888-455-1397; the conference ID is 8604468.

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation – Roundtable on Health Equity Strategy – December 8

CMMI will hold a roundtable event on Wednesday, December 8 at 1:30 p.m. (eastern) to discuss how it can carry out its strategic objective of advancing health equity.  The agency also invites written comments on the subject.  For further information about the roundtable and to register to participate, go here.

CDC – Molecular Approaches for Clinical and Public Health Applications to Detect Influenza and COVID-19 Viruses – December 9

The CDC will hold a webinar on Thursday, December 9 to share with clinicians information about molecular approaches for clinical and public health applications to detect the influenza virus and COVID-19.  Go here to learn more about the webinar and how to participate.

MEDPAC – commission meeting – December 9-10

Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee will meet virtually on December 9 and 10.  The two days of meetings will consist of four separate sessions.  For agendas for those sessions and information on how to register to participate, go here.

MACPAC – commission meeting – December 9-10

Members of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission will meet virtually on December 9 and 10.  To see the meeting agenda and register to participate, go here.

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, December 1

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 1.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Omicron Variant

  • The CDC has confirmed the first case of the COVID-19 omicron variant on U.S. soil.  Learn more from this CDC news release.

Health Care Employee Vaccine Mandate

COVID-19

  • A federal court has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the federal government’s requirement that health care workers receive COVID-19 vaccines by December 6.  Find the court’s ruling here.  The ultimate ruling will be made by a higher court.

No Surprises Act

  • CMS has released a series of documents addressing implementation of the No Surprises Act, the surprise medical billing law that takes effect on January 1.  Go here for a link to a zip file of those documents.
  • A reminder:  stakeholder comments on the most recent regulation implementing the No Surprises Act are due this coming Monday, December 6,

The White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has issued guidance to inform Medicare Part D sponsors of permissible flexibilities during the COVID-19 public health emergency related to oral antiviral drug(s) for COVID-19 if such drug(s) become available under FDA emergency use authorization and are procured by the federal government.  Find that guidance here.
  • CMS has updated its compendium of Medicare emergency declaration blanket waivers for health care providers with two changes:  one, on page 21, addresses requirements for individuals employed as directors of food and nutrition services in long-term-care facilities and another, on page 33, alters Medicare ground ambulance data collection reporting requirements.  Find the revised blanket waivers document here.

Health Policy Update

  • CMS has published a request for public comments on potential changes in the requirements that transplant programs, organ procurement organizations, and end-stage renal disease facilities must meet to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  Learn more about what CMS seeks in this Federal Register notice.  Stakeholder comments are due in 60 days.
  • CMS has announced that it will not move forward with the Seriously Ill Population component of its Primary Care First Model.  That component was designed to have advanced primary care practices coordinate care for high-need, seriously ill beneficiaries.  After review, CMS concluded that the program’s outreach methodology was unlikely to result in sufficient beneficiary participation to allow for model evaluation.  Learn more from this CMS announcement.
  • CMS has published two documents addressing Medicaid and CHIP in the post-COVID-19 world:  “Strategies States and the U.S. Territories Can Adopt to Maintain Coverage of Eligible Individuals as They Return to Normal Operations” and “Connecting Kids to Coverage: State Outreach, Enrollment and Retention Strategies.”
  • CMS has posted the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online publication addressing Medicare payment matters.  This edition includes items on new 2022 web pricers for inpatient prospective payment system hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and long-term-care hospitals; information about the 2022 physician fee schedule rule; news about telehealth originating site facility payments; information about disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments; and more.  Go here for the new MLN Connects.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy Update

  • HHS has launched a website for the HHS 405(d) Aligning Health Care Industry Security Approaches Program.  The purpose of the site is to provide the health care and public health sectors “…with useful, impactful, and vetted resources, products, videos, and tools that help raise awareness and provide cybersecurity practices, which drive behavioral change and move toward consistency in mitigating the most relevant cybersecurity threats to the sector.”  The website features health care-focused resources such as cybersecurity posters and infographics, installments of a bi-monthly newsletter, webinar recordings, and threat-specific products to support cybersecurity awareness and training.  Learn more from this HHS news release and go here to find the new site.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has updated its guidance on the use of the monoclonal antibodies amlanivimab and etesevimab when administered together, expanding their authorized use to all U.S. states and territories.  Find that guidance here.
  • The FDA has issued emergency use authorization for the emergency use of the unapproved monoclonal antibody product sotrovimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients with positive results of direct COVID-19 viral testing who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.  Go here for an FDA fact sheet on the drug’s use.
  • The FDA has issued a statement outlining its efforts to investigate and address the potential impact of the COVID-19 omicron variant.  Find that statement here.

Stakeholder Events

CMMI – The Value-Based Insurance Design Health Equity Business Case for Medicare Advantage Organizations – December 2

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) is sponsoring a series of webinars for current and potential Medicare Advantage Organization participants in its Value-Based Insurance Design Model.  The first webinar in the series will provide an overview of the model’s health equity incubation sessions effort, articulate a business case for Medicare Advantage organizations to leverage Value-Based Insurance Design Model components to address health inequities in their member populations, and provide specific guidance and clarification on the full extent of health equity-focused flexibilities that fall under the model’s waiver authority.  The first webinar will be held on Thursday, December 2 at 2:30 p.m. (eastern).  Go here for more information about the webinar and to register to participate.

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation – Roundtable on Health Equity Strategy – December 8

CMMI will hold a roundtable event on Wednesday, December 8 at 1:30 p.m. (eastern) to discuss how it can carry out its strategic objective of advancing health equity.  The agency also invites written comments on the subject.  For further information about the roundtable and to register to participate, go here.

CDC – Molecular Approaches for Clinical and Public Health Applications to Detect Influenza and COVID-19 Viruses – December 9

The CDC will hold a webinar on Thursday, December 9 to share with clinicians information about molecular approaches for clinical and public health applications to detect the influenza virus and COVID-19.  Go here to learn more about the webinar and how to participate.

MEDPAC – commission meeting – December 9-10

Members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee will meet virtually on December 9 and 10.  Information about how to join the meeting will be forthcoming; when it is, that information will be posted here.

Federal Health Policy Update for Tuesday, November 23

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 23.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS announced that it has begun distributing $7.5 billion in American Rescue Plan rural payments to providers and suppliers that serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare beneficiaries.  The average payment is $170,700, with payments ranging from $500 to $43 million for an entire health system.  More than 40,000 providers in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and six territories will receive these rural provider payments.  Learn more from this HHS news release.  In addition, go here for a state-by-state breakdown of the payments and here for a data set with all of the recipients of this $7.5 billion in rural provider payments.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, which administers the Provider Relief Fund, has established a 60-day grace period for complying with the fund’s Reporting Period 1.  The grace period began on October 1, 2021, and will end on November 30, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. (eastern).  Learn more here, under “60-Day Grace Period – Reporting Period 1.”

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has posted a presentation titled “Monoclonals and More:  Issues and Opportunities with Early COVID-19 Treatment Options.”  The presentation includes information about therapeutics and their use and distribution, guidelines for determining appropriate treatments, and links to presentations and other resources.  Find the presentation here.

Health Policy Update

  • HHS has announced that it will be awarding an additional $1.5 billion to help grow and diversify the nation’s health care workforce and bolster equitable health care in the communities that need it most.  These awards are supporting the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs, which address workforce shortages and health disparities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding for health care students and professionals in exchange for a service commitment in hard-hit and high-risk communities.  Learn more about these new resources for health care workforce development in this White House news release and another news release from HHS.
  • HHS has announced the availability of $35 million in American Rescue Plan funding to enhance and expand the telehealth infrastructure and capacity of Title X family planning providers.  HHS plans to use funds to award an estimated 60 one-time grants to active Title X grantees.  Applicants can begin the application process on Grants.gov and must apply by February 3.  Learn more from this HHS news release.
  • A new HHS report concludes that millions of Americans with private health insurance experience some kind of surprise medical billing.  The report found that surprise medical bills are relatively common among privately insured patients and can average more than $1,200 for services provided by anesthesiologists, $2,600 for surgical assistants, and $750 for childbirth-related care.  HHS has issued the report as it continues to develop regulations implementing the No Surprises Act, which was enacted earlier this year.  Learn more about the report from this HHS news release and see the full issue brief “Evidence on Surprise Billing: Protecting Consumers with the No Surprises Act.”
  • HHS has announced the creation of a new federal advisory committee, the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee.  As mandated by the No Surprises Act, the new advisory committee will be charged with providing recommendations to the secretaries of HHS, Labor, and Treasury on ways “to protect consumers from exorbitant charges and balance billing when using ground ambulance services.”  Learn more about the new Ground Ambulance and Patient Advisory Committee, its composition, and its scope of endeavor from this HHS news release and this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

Health Policy Update

  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has published an evaluation of year six of its Independence at Home Demonstration, in which selected primary care practices provide home-based primary care to targeted chronically ill beneficiaries for a three-year period, with CMS tracking beneficiaries’ care experience through quality measures and paying incentives to practices that meet quality measures while generating savings for Medicare.  Go here to learn more about the program and find a link to the program’s year-six evaluation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Stakeholder Events

CMMI – The Value-Based Insurance Design Health Equity Business Case for Medicare Advantage Organizations – December 2

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) is sponsoring a series of webinars for current and potential Medicare Advantage Organization participants in its Value-Based Insurance Design Model.  The first webinar in the series will provide an overview of the model’s health equity incubation sessions effort, articulate a business case for Medicare Advantage organizations to leverage Value-Based Insurance Design Model components to address health inequities in their member populations, and provide specific guidance and clarification on the full extent of health equity-focused flexibilities that fall under the model’s waiver authority.  The first webinar will be held on Thursday, December 2 at 2:30 p.m. (eastern).  Go here for more information about the webinar and to register to participate.

CDC – Molecular Approaches for Clinical and Public Health Applications to Detect Influenza and COVID-19 Viruses – December 9

The CDC will hold a webinar on Thursday, December 9 to share with clinicians information about molecular approaches for clinical and public health applications to detect the influenza virus and COVID-19.  Go here to learn more about the webinar and how to participate.

MedPAC Discusses Post-COVID Telehealth

Should Medicare continue to encourage the use of telehealth when the COVID-19 pandemic ends?

Should it continue to pay for telehealth when the there is no “tele” in the service and it is audio only?

And should Medicare pay different rates for visits in person, telehealth visits, and audio-only (that is, telephone) visits?

These were among the questions addressed by members of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission during their public meetings last week.

Members also discussed the need for further analysis of the effectiveness of telehealth and audio-only visits, how to identify audio-only visits on Medicare claims, how to collect data from home health agencies and hospices, which are not required to submit telehealth data, and more.

Learn more about what MedPAC is thinking about the use of telehealth in the future in the MedPage Today article “Medicare Advisors Consider Post-Pandemic Telehealth Pay Policy.”

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, November 4

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, November 4.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

New Federal Vaccination Requirements

CMS has unveiled its new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care providers that receive reimbursement from the federal government.  The highlights include:

  • CMS is requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
  • The staff vaccination requirement applies to the following Medicare and Medicaid-certified provider and supplier types:  ambulatory surgery centers, community mental health centers, comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation facilities, critical access hospitals, end-stage renal disease facilities, home health agencies, home infusion therapy suppliers, hospices, hospitals, intermediate-care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, clinics, rehabilitation agencies, public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly Organizations (PACE), rural health clinics/federally qualified health centers, and long-term care facilities.
  • Facilities covered by this regulation must establish a policy ensuring that all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment, or other services by December 5, 2021.  All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022.  The regulation also provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.
  • The regulation addresses who, among health care facilities’ employees, are subject to this requirement.  These requirements, it notes, must apply to the following facility staff, regardless of clinical responsibility or patient contact and including all current staff as well as any new staff who provide any care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients:  facility employees; licensed practitioners; students, trainees, and volunteers; and individuals who provide care, treatment, or other services for the facility and/or its patients under contract or other arrangement.
  • These requirements are not limited to those staff who perform their duties within a formal clinical setting, as many health care staff routinely care for patients and clients outside of such facilities, such as home health, home infusion therapy, hospice, PACE programs, and therapy staff.
  • Further, there may be staff that primarily provide services remotely via telework that occasionally encounter fellow staff, such as in an administrative office or at an off-site staff meeting, who will themselves enter a health care facility or site of care for their job responsibilities.  CMS has concluded that it is necessary to require vaccination for all staff that interact with other staff, patients, residents, clients, or PACE program participants in any location, beyond those who physically enter facilities, clinics, homes, or other sites of care.
  • Transplant centers, psychiatric hospitals, and swing beds are governed by the infection control conditions of participation for hospitals and are thus subject to the staff vaccination requirements issued in this rule.
  • Individuals who provide services 100 percent remotely, such as fully remote telehealth or payroll services, are not subject to the vaccination requirements of this rule.  Providers should identify and monitor these individuals as a part of implementing the policies and procedures of this rule.
  • The rule encompasses administrative staff, facility leadership, volunteer or other fiduciary board members, housekeeping and food services staff, and others.  Regulators considered excluding individual staff members who are present at the site of care less frequently than once a week from these vaccination requirements but were concerned that this might lead to confusion or fragmented care, so any individual who performs their duties at any site of care, or has the potential to have contact with anyone at the site of care, including staff or patients, must be fully vaccinated.
  • Regulators noted that many infrequent services and tasks performed in or for a health care facility are conducted by “one off” vendors, volunteers, and professionals.  Providers and suppliers are not required to ensure the vaccination of individuals who infrequently provide ad hoc non-health care services (such as annual elevator inspection), delivery, or repair personnel.
  • When determining whether to require COVID-19 vaccination of an individual who does not fall into the categories established by this rule, facilities are told to consider frequency of presence, services provided, and proximity to patients and staff.  For example, a plumber who makes an emergency repair in an empty restroom or service area and correctly wears a mask for the entirety of the visit may not be an appropriate candidate for mandatory vaccination. On the other hand, a crew working on a construction project whose members use shared facilities (restrooms, cafeteria, break rooms) during their breaks would be subject to these requirements because they are using the same common areas used by staff, patients, and visitors.
  • To learn more, please consult the following resources:
  • OSHA has announced a new emergency temporary standard to protect more than 84 million workers from the spread of COVID-19 on the job.  Under this standard, covered employers (those with 100 or more employees) must develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose either to be vaccinated or to undergo regular COVID-19 testing and wear a face covering at work.  Learn more from this OSHA news release and the agency’s formal Emergency Testing Standard, as published in the Federal Register.

New Medicare Regulations

CMS has released a number of final Medicare regulations.  The following are those final rules and links to additional information about them.

  • Hospital outpatient prospective payment system, ambulatory surgical center prospective payment system, price transparency, and radiation oncology model rule – changes include a two percent rate increase; restoration of the inpatient-only procedure list and most procedures that were removed from that list last year; continuation of 340B payments at average sale price minus 22.5 percent; changes in the hospital price transparency rule that leave hospitals with more than 30 beds subject to fines of up to $5500 a day or more than $2 million a year; changes in the quality reporting program, including a measure for COVID-19 vaccination rate among health care workers; and some changes in the Radiation Oncology Model program that begins on January 1, 2022, including invoking its “Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances Policy” for the program.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • For more on the “Extreme and Uncontrollable Circumstances Policy” and its application to the Radiation Oncology Model, go here and scroll down.
  • Physician fee schedule – changes include an overall reduction of nearly nine percent in physician payments; a reduction of the conversion factor from the current $34.89 to $33.59; and provisions for the expanded use of telehealth.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • Home health prospective payment system – changes include a 3.2 percent rate increase, changes in the Medicare conditions of participation, and provisions for expanded use of telehealth.  To learn more, see the following resources:
  • CMS has issued a final rule that updates payment rates under the End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Prospective Payment System for renal dialysis services furnished to beneficiaries on or after January 1, 2022.  This rule also finalizes updates to the Acute Kidney Injury program dialysis payment rate for renal dialysis services furnished by ESRD facilities.  It also finalizes modifications to the ESRD Treatment Choices Model policies to encourage certain health care providers to reduce disparities in rates of home dialysis and kidney transplants among ESRD patients with lower socioeconomic status.  To learn more, see the following resources:

The White House

Congress

  • Yesterday, House Democrats released the text of its reconciliation bill, H.R. 5376 – the Build Back Better Act.  This bill includes a provision that provides a glide-path to ending the enhanced 6.2% Medicaid federal matching percentage established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March last year.  The enhanced FMAP would be phased out as follows:
    • April 1, 2022, the enhanced FMAP lowered  to 3.0 percentage points;
    • July 1, 2022, enhanced FMAP lowered to 1.5 percentage points;
    • October 1, 2022, enhanced FMAP expires.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hopes the House will vote on the domestic spending reconciliation bill as early as this evening, to be followed by a vote on the bipartisan, Senate-passed infrastructure bill on Friday.  House Democrats have continued to negotiate changes in the reconciliation bill to gain more support, though it is unclear whether those changes have persuaded enough Democrats in the House to support the bill at this time.  Also unclear is whether the House bill will comply with the Senate’s procedural rules or whether this bill will have the support of all 50 Democratic senators.

Provider Relief Fund:  Phase 3 Payment Reconsideration

  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is accepting requests for reconsideration from providers that believe their Provider Relief Fund Phase 3 payments were incorrectly calculated.  Providers may not revise or correct their submitted application and the reconsideration will address only the calculation itself and not objections to the calculation methodology.  Go here for further information.  The deadline for submitting requests for reconsideration of Phase 3 payments is November 12.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • HHS has proposed eliminating the “Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely” (SUNSET) regulation, adopted in January of this year, that would have eliminated department regulations after ten years unless HHS took specific action to renew them.  In proposing to reverse the rule, HHS cited its previous failure to consider stakeholder objections to the rule, the burden it would place on the agency, and its potentially negative effect on medically vulnerable populations.  See HHS’s proposed rule overturning the SUNSET regulation in this Federal Register notice.
  • HHS has awarded $3.37 billion in relief funds through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help low-income individuals and families afford home heating costs this winter and cover unpaid utility bills.  This supplements $4.5 billion in LIHEAP funds from the American Rescue Plan Act that were released in May.  Learn more about this new LIHEAP funding and how interested parties can apply for assistance in this HHS news release.
  • HRSA has issued an interim update to its strategic plan to ensure alignment with the administration’s and HHS’s priorities, such as their emphasis on health equity, and the expansion of HRSA’s program responsibilities.  Go here to learn about the updated interim plan.
  • HRSA has opened its application process for three of its loan repayment programs with the support of an additional $800 million made available through the American Rescue Plan.  Eligible clinicians providing primary medical, dental, behavioral health care services, or evidence-based substance use disorder treatment can qualify for loan repayment of up to:
  • $50,000 for the NHSC Loan Repayment Program
  • $75,000 for the NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program
  • 100,000 for the NHSC Rural Community Loan Repayment Program

Go here to learn more about eligible clinicians.  Applications are due December 16.

  • HHS’s Indian Health Service has announced $46.4 million in funding opportunities to address suicide, domestic violence, and substance abuse and for support for an integrative approach to the delivery of behavioral health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.  Go here to learn more about the funding opportunities.  Applications are due February 2.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS has reminded eligible consumers and providers that coverage for COVID-19 vaccines for children from the ages of five to 11 is available without cost-sharing under Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and in the commercial market.  Under the terms of the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement, health care providers and other entities administering COVID-19 vaccines must agree not to deny anyone a COVID-19 vaccination based on their health coverage status and also must agree to administer COVID-19 vaccines at no out-of-pocket cost to recipients.  Learn more from this CMS news release.
  • CMS has posted a quick start guide to CLIA certification for COVID-19 testing in the workplace and an accompanying FAQ.

Health Policy News

  • CMS has extended two deadlines affecting hospitals that participate in its Hospital Inpatient Quality Reporting Program and/or the Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program.  As described in this CMS notice,
  • The deadline for the submission of electronic clinical quality measure (eCQM) data for the calendar year 2021 reporting period, pertaining to the FY 2023 payment determination, has been changed from Monday, February 28, 2022 to Thursday, March 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
  • The Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program attestation deadline for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals has been changed from Monday, February 28, 2022 to Thursday, March 31, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.
  • CMS has posted the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  Included in the new release are articles about changes for Medicare Advantage plan claims for COVID-19 vaccines and monoclonal antibodies that will take effect on January 1, 2022; changes in Medicare billing practices; a new web-based training program on post-acute care quality reporting programs; and more.  Go here to see the latest edition of MLN Connects.
  • CMS has released an updated fact sheet, based on recent legislative changes, to help states and advocacy organizations understand what health coverage options are available to Afghan evacuees.  Find that fact sheet here.

Food and Drug Administration

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative has announced the launch of the “When To Test Calculator for Individuals,” a companion to the version for organizations introduced last winter.  By responding to just a few prompts, the new online individual impact calculator indicates whether a person should get a test and when.  The calculator includes answers to frequently asked questions and links to resources on testing strategies and on obtaining supplies, including home tests.  Learn more from this NIH announcement.
  • The NIH will support a four-year follow-up study on the potential long-term effects of COVID-19 on women infected with the virus during pregnancy.  The study also will follow their offspring for any potential long-term effects.  Learn more from this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has updated “Payment Basics,” its series of brief overviews of how Medicare’s payment systems function.  The agency produces Payment Basics as a resource for policy-makers and others to better understand how Medicare pays for health care services.  Much of the update reflects COVID-19-related payment changes.  Find the series here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • MACPAC met on Thursday, October 28 and Friday, October 29.  For a summary of the meeting and links to the agenda and presentations made during the meeting, go here.
  • MACPAC has published a new issue brief that describes the use and oversight of upper-payment limit (UPL) payments for hospitals, nursing facilities, and physicians based on its review of provider-level data submitted by states to CMS to demonstrate compliance with UPL requirements.  The brief concludes with a discussion of current policy issues, including the new requirement for CMS to make provider-level UPL data publicly available.  Find the brief here.

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

  • The GAO recently evaluated the effectiveness of the federal government’s organization of the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and its communication about those efforts and has published its findings and recommendations in the new report “COVID-19:  HHS Agencies’ Planned Reviews of Vaccine Distribution and Communication Efforts Should Include Stakeholder Perspectives.”  Find a summary of the report here and the full report here.

Congressional Research Service

Stakeholder Events

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) – November 8 and 9

MedPAC will hold virtual meetings on November 8 and 9.  For information about times, agenda, and how to join the meeting go here.

CMS – Medicare Clinical Laboratory Fee Data Collection and Reporting Webinar – November 10

CMS will hold a webinar on Medicare clinical laboratory private payer data collection and reporting on Wednesday, November 10 at 3:30 p.m. (eastern).  Go here to register to participate.

HHS – Monoclonals and More:  Issues and Opportunities with Early COVID-19 Treatment Options – November 12

HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response will hold a webinar on COVID-19 treatment with monoclonal antibodies on Friday, November 12 at 12:30 p.m. during which it will address some of the most current recommendations for use of monoclonal antibodies, upcoming therapies, and the challenges and opportunities that new therapies may pose in conjunction with monoclonal antibodies and other treatments (e.g., prioritization and distribution).  Speakers also will highlight operational principles for a scaled strategy for use of these therapeutics in a scarce resource situation.  For more information about the webinar and to register, go here.

CMS – COVID-19 Vaccines and Rural Communities – November 15

CMS will hold a webinar on COVID-19 vaccines and rural communities for its community providers and partners working in rural areas.  Go here for further information about the webinar and to register to participate.

CDC – Antibiotic Prescribing and COVID-19 – November 18

The CDC will hold a webinar titled “What Clinicians, Pharmacists, and Public Health Partners Need to Know About Antibiotic Prescribing and COVID-19” on Wednesday, November 18 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern).  Go here for information about the webinar, the presenters, and how to participate.

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, September 23

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 23.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration has posted new information about planned distributions of additional COVID-19 supplemental funding for health care providers through the Provider Relief Fund and for qualified rural hospitals through funding made available through the American Rescue Plan.  Included in the new posting is information about:
    • Web events to explain what the agency is doing and what providers must do to pursue funding, to be held on Thursday, September 30 and Tuesday, October 5.
    • An application deadline of October 26.
    • What providers are eligible for funding.
    • Documentation grant applicants will need to submit.

Learn more from the updated Provider Relief Fund web page.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has awarded $73 million in cooperative agreement grants as part of its Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program to strengthen U.S. public health information technology (IT) efforts, improve COVID-19 data collection, and increase representation of underrepresented communities within the public health IT workforce.  Learn more about how the money will be used and find a list of the grant recipients in this HHS news release.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has granted exceptions for certain Medicare quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs located in areas affected by Hurricane Ida.  These exceptions apply to acute-care hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, prospective payment system-exempt cancer hospitals, inpatient psychiatric facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, long-term-care hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and New Jersey.  Learn more about the exceptions and the specific geographic areas to which they apply in this CMS notice.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Matters, its online newsletter.  The new edition includes articles about various Medicare billing issues, an update of the ambulatory surgical center payment system, and more.  Find it all here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has amended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to allow for use of a single booster dose to be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series in individuals 65 years of age and older; individuals 18 through 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19; and individuals 18 through 64 years whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19 puts them at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19.  See the FDA announcement and an explanation of the decision here.

Stakeholder Events

MACPAC – September meetings – September 24

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) is holdings its scheduled September meeting of commissioners on Thursday, September 23 and Friday, 24 to discuss federal Medicaid and CHIP policies.  The meetings are being be held virtually.  Find the meeting agenda here and go here to register to view the sessions.

CDC – Latest CDC Recommendations for Pfizer COVID-19 Booster Vaccination – September 28

The CDC will hold a webinar on Tuesday, September 28 to give clinicians an overview of the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination.  Clinicians will learn about the vaccine booster recommendations, the safety of booster dose, and clinical guidance for using the Pfizer booster vaccine.  Go here for more information about the event and to register to participate.

HRSA – New Provider Relief Fund and Rural Hospital Grants – September 30 and October 5

The Health Resources and Services Administration will hold web events on Thursday, September 30 and Tuesday, October 5 for providers interested in pursuing Provider Relief Fund grants and funding for rural hospitals provided through the American Rescue Plan.  The purpose of the event is to provide guidance on how to navigate the application portal for seeking these grants.  Learn more here and find a link to register to participate.

CDC – Evaluating and Supporting Patients Presenting With Fatigue Following COVID-19 – September 30

The CDC will hold a webinar on evaluating and supporting patients who present with fatigue following treatment for COVID-19.  The webinar will be held on Thursday, September 30.  For further information on the subjects the webinar will cover, those who will be participating in the event, and how to join the webinar, go here.

FDA – Workshop Addressing Response to the Opioid Crisis – October 13

The FDA will hold a workshop titled “Reconsidering Mandatory Opioid Prescriber Education Through a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS)” to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input on aspects of the current opioid crisis that could be mitigated in a measurable way by requiring mandatory prescriber education as part of a REMS effort.  The public workshop will be held on October 13 and October 14.  For information about participating in the workshop or submitting comments or materials, see this Federal Register notice.

Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, August 19

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 19.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Provider Relief Fund

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • CMS and the CDC are developing an emergency regulation requiring staff vaccinations within the nation’s more than 15,000 Medicare- and Medicaid-participating nursing homes.  In announcing this new policy, CMS notes that “About 62% of nursing home staff are currently vaccinated as of August 8 nationally, and vaccination among staff at the state level ranges from a high of 88% to a low of 44%.  The emergence of the Delta variant in the United States has driven a rise in cases among nursing home residents from a low of 319 cases on June 27, to 2,696 cases on August 8, with many of the recent outbreaks occurring in facilities located in areas of the United States with the lowest staff vaccination rates.”  Learn more from the CMS announcement.
  • CMS has published a special edition of its online newsletter, MLN Connects, that presents information about codes and payments for the additional doses of COVID-19 vaccinations authorized by the FDA last week for selected at-risk individuals.  The American Medical Association has published similar information.
  • CMS has invited eligible Medicaid managed care organizations to participate in a data-sharing pilot project to facilitate increased care coordination for individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid during the COVID-19 emergency.  This pilot project is open to a maximum of 20 Medicaid managed care organizations that enroll dually eligible beneficiaries.  The application deadline is August 30.  Learn more about the program here.

Health Policy News

  • The Most Favored Nation Model introduced by CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) sought to test a new way to lower prescription drug costs by paying no more for high-cost Medicare Part B drugs and biologicals than the lowest price that drug manufacturers receive in other, similar countries.  In the face of legal challenges that prevented implementation of the program as proposed, CMMI has announced that it will not implement the program without additional rulemaking.  Go here to learn more about the program and its change in status.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of its MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  This week’s edition includes features on updated web-based training on Medicare fraud and abuse prevention, detection, and reporting; webinars on Medicare ground ambulance data collection; updated instructional resources for inpatient rehabilitation facility and long-term-care hospital Quality Reporting Program documents; and more.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • A study by HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has concluded that Medicare pays three times as much for the capital costs of new hospitals during their first two years of existence – an average of $1.3 million a year more – than it pays established hospitals for their capital costs.  The OIG recommended that CMS reevaluate this policy.  CMS concurred with the OIG’s recommendation.  Learn more from the OIG study.
  • HHS has awarded $19 million in grants to 36 recipients to strengthen telehealth services in rural and underserved communities and expand telehealth innovation and quality nation-wide.  Learn more about the specific grant recipients and the purposes for which they received awards in this HHS announcement.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

National Institutes of Health

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Stakeholder Events

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.

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, July 14

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 14.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

CMS – Proposed 2022 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Rule

CMS has released its proposed Medicare physician fee schedule rule for 2022.  Highlights of the proposed rule, which is more than 1700 pages, include:

  • loosening current restrictions on the use of telehealth and expanding its use for behavioral health services;
  • expanding the reach of the Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program;
  • requiring clinicians to meet a higher performance threshold to receive incentives under the Quality Payment Program;
  • authorizing physician assistants to bill Medicare directly for the Part B services they provide; and
  • phasing out coinsurance for colorectal screening additional services.

In addition, CMS is soliciting stakeholder feedback on health equity data collection and on current Medicare payments for administering vaccines.

For further information about the proposed physician fee schedule rule, see the following resources:

CMS’s news release announcing the newly proposed rule

a CMS fact sheet

quality program update fact sheet

Medicare Diabetes Prevention Program update fact sheet

the proposed rule itself

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online weekly bulletin.  This week’s edition includes an article about cognitive assessment resources for providers, updated FY 2022 ICD-10-CMS codes, and opportunities for web-based training on aspects of Medicare billing.  For this and more, go here.
  • CMS has announced that it will open a National Coverage Determination (NCD) analysis through which it will review and determine whether Medicare will establish a national Medicare coverage policy for monoclonal antibodies targeting amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  NCDs are program instructions developed by CMS to describe the nation-wide conditions for Medicare coverage for a specific item or service.  This NCD analysis will be applicable to national coverage considerations for aducanumab, which was recently approved by the FDA, as well as any future monoclonal antibodies that target amyloid for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  As part of the NCD process, a 30-day public comment period began on July 12.  CMS will host two public listening sessions in July to provide an opportunity for public input.  Learn more from this CMS announcement.
  • CMS has announced that it will distribute $15 million in American Rescue Plan funding to provide community-based mobile crisis intervention services for those with Medicaid.  The $15 million funding opportunity is available to state Medicaid agencies, not providers, for planning grants to support developing these programs.
  • CMS’s Accountable Health Communities (AHC) Model assesses whether bridging the gap between clinical care and social services can reduce health care utilization and costs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  In February 2021, CMS hosted its third annual AHC meeting virtually to convene 28 bridge organizations participating in the AHC model and key partners, including community service providers, state Medicaid agencies, and advisory board members.  Meeting participants collaborated and shared insights to sustain their screening, referral, and navigation strategies to address the health-related social needs of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  Learn more about their insights in the brief “Planning for Sustainability and Advancing Health Equity during the Public Health Emergency.

Provider Relief Fund

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • HHS has provided $398 million in American Rescue Plan money through the Small Rural Hospital Improvement Program to 1540 small rural hospitals for COVID-19 testing and mitigation.  See the HHS announcement here, including a list of how much was distributed to hospitals in each state.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the availability of complete lists of all geographic areas, population groups, and facilities designated as primary medical care, dental health, and mental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs) as of April 30, 2021.  See the HRSA notice here and find the updated lists of HPSAs here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

Please note that the vaccine’s FAQ and separate fact sheets translated into other languages have not yet been updated.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

  • OMB has published its semi-annual work plan presenting its regulatory priorities in the coming months.  Among the HHS matters listed, in addition to those that occur regularly, are:
    • Streamlining the Medicaid and CHIP Application, Eligibility Determination, Enrollment, and Renewal Processes
    • Medicaid Drug Misclassification, Beneficiary Access Protection, and Drug Program Administration
    • Mandatory Medicaid and CHIP Core Set Reporting
    • Medicaid Managed Care Risk-Sharing Mechanisms
    • Temporary Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) increase under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

See the complete HHS list here.

Stakeholder Events

Thursday, July 15 – Centers for Disease Control

CDC National Call Series on COVID-19-Related Response Strategies

Thursday, July 15 at 2:00 – 3:00 pm ET Click here to join
CDC’s COVID-19 response team conducts a national call weekly to provide state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) partners with timely updates and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning and sharing of successful response strategies. Over the summer, these weekly COVID-19 community of practice webinars will focus on topics related to school readiness.

Monday, July 19 – National Emergency Management Association (NEMA)

Mission-Ready Packages Workshop for Resource Providers

Monday, July 19 at 1:00 pm ET  Click here for registration

NEMA is hosting a workshop on developing mission ready packages (MRPs). MRPs are specific response or recovery capabilities that have been created to ensure the skills, capabilities, and associated costs are bundled prior to an emergency or disaster for more efficient deployment. These workshop sessions are designed for resource providers. A resource provider is any organization that is able to deploy under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) and that has capabilities that might be needed during an emergency response. Previous knowledge of EMAC or MRPs is not required.

Tuesday, July 20 – Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)

Provider Relief Fund Reporting Requirements

Tuesday, July 20 at 3:00 pm ET

HRSA will host a recorded Reporting Technical Assistance session to provide technical assistance on reporting requirements for Provider Relief Fund recipients and stakeholders.  To register for the July 20 session go here.

Thursday, July 22 – HHS’s Health Sector Cybersecurity Coordination Center (HC3)
HC3
Cybersecurity Threat Briefing – Qbot/QakBot

Thursday, July 22 at 1:00 pm ET – Click here for registration

HC3 is holding its second July threat briefing, the topic will be “Qbot/QakBot.”  This webinar will provide actionable information on health sector cybersecurity threats and mitigations.  HC3 analysts will engage in discussions with participants on current threats and highlight best practices and mitigation tactics.

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.

 

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, May 19

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy

  • NASH has written to all members of Congress urging them to contact Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about directing more of its remaining CARES Act Provider Relief Fund money to private safety-net hospitals to help them serve their diverse, predominantly low-income communities during the COVID-19 emergency.  Go here to see NASH’s message to Congress.

The White House

COVID-19

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

Go here for links to these and other items.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is distributing $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding for its mental health and substance use block grant programs.  The Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program are distributing $1.5 billion each to states and territories to help communities addressing mental health and substance use needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Learn more from HHS’s news release announcing the funding.
  • HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has updated its work plan for COVID-19-related audits, evaluations, and inspections scheduled for May.
  • In conjunction with the California Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a news release advising the public that they should not be asked by providers to pay for COVID-19 vaccines and reminding providers that they may not attempt to charge or bill consumers for administering those vaccines.  See the news release here.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has published information about the challenges of providing hospice care amid the COVID-19 pandemic and about providing home care during the public health emergency.

Health Policy News

Senate Finance Committee Hearing

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing today on COVID-19 flexibilities.

  • Go here to read the opening statement of the committee chair, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and go here to read the opening statement of the committee’s ranking minority member, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID).
  • Go here to see the testimony of individuals who appeared at the hearing.
  • The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has submitted a written statement to the committee.  The MedPAC statement notes that “While many of these actions have been helpful in addressing the short-term issues presented by the pandemic, continuing those changes indefinitely would have drawbacks.  Therefore, policymakers should be cautious about extending them beyond the duration of the public health emergency (PHE) or other scheduled expiration date.”  The statement pays particular attention to telehealth and post-acute care.  Go here to see the MedPAC submission “Temporary modifications of Medicare policies in response to the coronavirus public health emergency.”
  • The Government Accountability Office has submitted a report to the Senate Finance Committee on the same subject.  The GAO notes that it undertook this work, titled “Medicare and Medicaid:  COVID-19 Program Flexibilities and Considerations for Their Continuation,” because of a CARES Act provision that calls for the agency to “… conduct monitoring and oversight of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Find the GAO submission here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

National Institutes of Health

COVID-19

National Academy of Medicine

FEMA

Government Accountability Office

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.

MACPAC kicked off its April meeting with a review of a draft chapter for the June 2021 report to Congress and recommendations on addressing high-cost specialty drugs. Since 2017, the Commission has been working to identify potential models that could help states address the challenges of high prices. The presentation focused on drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the accelerated approval pathway. Such approvals are based on whether the drug has an effect on a surrogate endpoint that is reasonably likely to predict a clinical benefit; however, unlike under the traditional pathway, the clinical benefit has yet to be verified.

On Friday, the Commission voted to approve two recommendations* that address Medicaid payment for such drugs. The recommendations would increase the rebates under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program on accelerated approval drugs until these drugs have verified the clinical benefit. Once the FDA converts the drugs to traditional approval, the rebates would revert back to the standard amounts.

Commissioners then turned their attention to ways states can integrate care through Medicare Advantage dual eligible special needs plans (D-SNPs) using contract authority under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (MIPPA, P.L. 110-275). The draft chapter for the June report describes why MACPAC is focused on D-SNPs, MIPPA strategies available to states, state ability to use these strategies, and MACPAC’s plans for future work on specific strategies that if made mandatory could give further momentum to state efforts.

The Commission then discussed two additional draft chapters for the June 2021 report related to behavioral health services. Staff presented a draft chapter and recommendations on improving access to mental health services for adult Medicaid beneficiaries, followed by a draft chapter and recommendations on improving access to behavioral health services for children and youth.

Commissioners on Friday approved recommendations* that call on the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to:

  • direct relevant agencies to issue joint subregulatory guidance that addresses how Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can be used to fund a crisis continuum for beneficiaries experiencing behavioral health crises;
  • direct a coordinated effort to provide education, technical assistance, and planning support to expand access to such services;
  • direct relevant agencies to issue joint subregulatory guidance that addresses the design and implementation of benefits for children and adolescents with significant mental health conditions covered by Medicaid and CHIP; and
  • direct a coordinated effort to provide education, technical assistance, and planning support to expand access to such services.

After a break on Thursday, Commissioners discussed a draft chapter for the June 2021 report to Congress on how electronic health records (EHRs) can be used to strengthen clinical integration and improve patient care.  Adoption of EHRs remains low among behavioral health providers. The chapter provides an overview of MACPAC’s work to date on clinical integration for behavioral and  physical health services, and discusses how data-sharing can improve the quality of care for beneficiaries with behavioral health conditions. It concludes by identifying ways to strengthen EHR uptake among Medicaid’s behavioral health providers.

Next, Commissioners reviewed a draft chapter on non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). In recent years, policymakers at the state and federal levels have begun to re-examine this benefit. As part of a congressionally mandated request, MACPAC conducted a multi-pronged study of NEMT that will be published as a chapter in the June 2021 report to Congress. This presentation included the key findings of MACPAC’s study and an overview of the topics covered in the draft chapter.

On Friday, the day kicked off with a discussion of the challenges that states face in providing more care through home- and community-based services (HCBS). As of fiscal year (FY) 2018, HCBS spending as a percentage of long-term services and supports spending remained under 50 percent in 18 states and the District of Columbia. To understand why some states have made less progress in rebalancing, MACPAC contracted with RTI International and the Center for Healthcare Strategies. This presentation summarized the results of the work, as well as proposed policy considerations.

The Commission then heard a staff presentation on key Medicaid and CHIP managed care quality requirements, as well as quality improvement and measurement activities conducted by states, plans, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Staff also provided a summary of preliminary findings on state performance over time on selected core set measures and managed care plan performance on performance improvement projects, which suggest the effectiveness of these efforts is unclear. Staff and Commissioners identified potential areas for future MACPAC work related to quality of care in Medicaid and CHIP.

After the Commission voted on several recommendations, staff provided an update on the current state of Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS) data submissions and MACPAC’s work to validate and analyze the data. MACPAC found that data submissions have improved since 2016, but some challenges remain.

The meeting concluded with a panel discussion about Medicaid’s use of telehealth services, which expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioners heard from Chethan Bachireddy, chief medical officer for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services; Tracy Johnson, Medicaid director for the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing; and Sara Salek, chief medical officer for the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. Panelists described the use of telehealth during the pandemic, considerations for post-pandemic telehealth policies, and challenges to the use and adoption of telehealth in Medicaid and how these states are addressing them.

*All recommendations were approved as presented in draft.

Supporting the discussion were the following briefing papers:

  1. High-Cost Specialty Drugs Review of Draft Chapter and Recommendations
  2. Strategies for State Contracts with Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans
  3. Access to Mental Health Services for Adults: Draft Chapter and Recommendations
  4. Access to Behavioral Health Services for Children and Adolescents: Draft Chapter and Recommendations
  5. Electronic Health Records as a Tool for Integration of Behavioral Health Services
  6. Mandated Report: Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Benefit
  7. Progress on Rebalancing: Lessons from States
  8. Ensuring Medicaid and CHIP Quality
  9. Update on Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System (T-MSIS)
  10. Panel Discussion: What States are Learning from Expanded Use of Telehealth

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.