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.

MedPAC: Go Slow on Expanding Medicare Telehealth

MedPAC wants Medicare to test the impact of telehealth on health care under non-COVID-19 conditions before moving forward with expanding the tool’s use in the Medicare population.

In a news release accompanying its recently released annual report to Congress on Medicare payment policy, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission writes that

In the report, we present a policy option for expanded coverage for Medicare telehealth policy after the PHE is over. Under the policy option, policymakers should temporarily continue some of the telehealth expansions for a limited duration of time (e.g., one to two years after the PHE) to gather more evidence about the impact of telehealth on beneficiary access to care, quality of care, and program spending to inform any permanent changes. During this limited period, Medicare should temporarily pay for specified telehealth services provided to all beneficiaries regardless of their location, and it should continue to cover certain newly-covered telehealth services and certain audio-only telehealth services if there is potential for clinical benefit.

The policy option also specifies that after the PHE ends, Medicare should return to paying the physician fee schedule’s facility rate for telehealth services and collect data on the cost of providing those services. In addition, providers should not be allowed to reduce or waive beneficiary cost sharing for telehealth services after the PHE. CMS should also implement other safeguards to protect the Medicare program and its beneficiaries from unnecessary spending and potential fraud related to telehealth.

While MedPAC’s recommendations to Congress are not binding on the administration, its work is highly respected and it is considered influential in the development of Medicare reimbursement policy.

Learn more about what MedPAC has to say about telehealth services and other aspects of Medicare payment policy in this MedPAC news release and the MedPAC’s newly released Report to the Congress:  Medicare Payment Policy.