Federal Health Policy Update for Monday, November 15

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Monday, November 15.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – Final Guidance on Shared/Co-Located Hospital Spaces

  • In a memo to state survey agencies, CMS has published final guidance for the evaluation of compliance with the Medicare Conditions of Participation that address shared space and services for hospitals co-located with other hospitals or health care entities, updating guidance issued in May of 2019.  The revised guidance is shorter and less prescriptive and does not contain nearly as much detail as the 2019 draft.  Find it here.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services


  • In a memo to state survey agencies, CMS has revised restrictions on nursing home visits, easing limits it introduced last year in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.  Find the new guidance here.
  • A second CMS memo to state survey agencies on the subject of nursing homes suggests steps those agencies can take to address the backlog of facility complaint and recertification surveys that has amassed during the pandemic.  Find that memo here.

Health Policy Update

  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter about Medicare reimbursement matters.  The new update has articles about CMS’s provider enrollment application fee for CY 2022, updates in the long-term hospital (LTCH) and inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF) quality reporting programs for 2022, billing for durable medical equipment provided during inpatient stays, and more.  Go here to see the latest edition of MLN Connects.
  • CMS has released its Medicare Part A and Part B premiums for calendar year 2022.  The Part B increase is one of the largest in years, which CMS attributes to the possibility that it may be required to provide coverage for the use of the new Alzheimer’s treatment drug Aduhelm.  Learn more about 2022 Part A and Part B premiums and Medicare coverage changes in this CMS news release and an accompanying CMS fact sheet.
  • CMS has repealed a regulation adopted in January of this year titled “Medicare Program; Medicare Coverage of Innovative Technology (MCIT) and Definition of `Reasonable and Necessary’” that established faster access for Medicare beneficiaries to recently authorized medical devices designated as breakthroughs by the FDA.  See the repeal notice and read CMS’s rationale for its action in this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • HHS has withdrawn a policy that directed the FDA not to enforce pre-market review requirements for laboratory-developed tests.  The FDA also updated its policies regarding tests, including laboratory-developed tests, currently being offered prior to or without authorization as well as policies regarding the types of tests on which the FDA intends to focus its reviews in the future.  Go here to see the FDA announcement about this change and its future priorities and go here to read a statement from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra outlining his rationale for the change.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH has enrolled the first participants in a study that will track up to 1000 children and young adults who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on their physical and mental health over three years.  Learn more from this NIH announcement.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

  • In September of this year the Senate Finance Committee requested input on opportunities to enhance behavioral health care in the areas of strengthening the workforce; increasing integration, coordination, and access; ensuring parity between behavioral health and physical health care; furthering the use of telehealth; and improving access to behavioral health care for children and young people.  In its response to this request, MACPAC urges the committee to address the needs of adults and children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.  In addition, it stresses the need to address barriers to care that result in disparities in access to care and behavioral health outcomes for Black, Hispanic, and Asian American beneficiaries, people with disabilities, and those living in rural areas.  Go here to see MACPAC’s full response.

Stakeholder Events

CMS – Hospital/Quality Imitative Open Door Forum – November 17

CMS will hold a Hospital/Quality Initiative Open Door Forum on Wednesday, November 17 at 2:00 p.m. (eastern).  The forum will address a number of issues, including the CY 2022 hospital outpatient prospective payment system and ambulatory surgical center payment system final rule, outpatient payments, pass-through drugs and devices, ambulatory surgical center payments, hospital price transparency, and the Radiation Oncology Model.  This forum will be held by conference call.

To participate, dial 1-888-455-1397 and use conference passcode 8604468

HHS/Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation – November 18

On Thursday, November 18 HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation will host a webinar listening session at 1:00 p.m. (eastern) as a follow-up to the release of its recently published document “Driving Health System Transformation – A Strategy for the CMS Innovation Center’s Second Decade.”  The listening session will be an opportunity for stakeholders to share with CMS leaders their perspectives on how to execute the agency’s strategic vision.  Register for the event and find more information here.

CDC/NIOSH – Mental Health of the Health Care Workforce – November 18

On Thursday, November 18 the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) will host a virtual event with NIOSH director Dr. John Howard, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, and other national experts from labor and medicine on the mental health of the nation’s critical health workforce.  Go here to learn more about the participants and the subjects they plan to address and go here 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.

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.

ACOs, APMs Proliferate

The number of accountable care organizations and alternative payment models is growing, as is the number of people served by such programs.

According to a new study published on the Health Affairs Blog, there are more than 900 ACOs across the country – a 10 percent increase over a year ago.

32 million Americans are served by ACOs today – 2.2 million more than a year ago.  Among them, 59 percent are served through commercial contracts, 29 percent by Medicare contracts, and 12 percent under Medicaid contracts.  ACO growth is greatest in metropolitan areas, the states with the greatest ACO penetration are Rhode Island and Maine, and the states with the least ACO penetration are Wyoming and West Virginia.

Among alternative payment models, growth is greatest among shared-savings and shared-risk ACOs, include episode-based models and partially- and fully-capitated payments for patient populations.  Today, APMs account for more than 30 percent of Medicare payments, with the greatest number, by far, participating in Medicare’s Comprehensive Primary Care Plus Model, followed by Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement and Shared Savings Program models.

Learn more about the growth of ACOs and APMs, the current policy environment for such approaches, and possible future changes in these approaches in this Health Affairs Blog article.

Participation in Alternate Payment Models Rises

In 2017 nearly 360,000 clinicians will participate in Medicare and Medicaid Alternative Payment Model programs sponsored by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

CMS also reports that this year 570 accountable care organizations, including 131 that bear risk, will serve more than 12.3 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

In addition, nearly 3000 primary care practices will participate in advanced primary care medical home models.

Find more about the growth of participation in CMS’s alternative payment models, including descriptions of the different models and breakdowns in the numbers of participants, in this CMS news release.

Urban Hospitals in ACOS Better at Reducing Some Readmissions Rates

A new study has found that hospitals located in metropolitan areas that participate in accountable care organizations are doing a better job than other hospitals of reducing 30-day readmissions rates for Medicare patients who originally were discharged into skilled nursing facilities.

iStock_000008112453XSmallIt appears this improved performance can be attributed to two things: better discharge planning and better coordination with the skilled nursing facilities.

To learn more go here to see the study “ACO-Affiliated Hospitals Reduced Rehospitalizations from Skilled Nursing Facilities Faster Than Other Hospitals.”

New ACO Model Targets Social Determinants of Health

The federal government is altering a previously announced accountable care organization model to help it target the social determinants of health of the patients it serves.

The Accountable Health Communities model, launched by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in January, has been modified to target “community-dwelling Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries with unmet health-related social needs.”

According to a CMS fact sheet,

The foundation of the Accountable Health Communities Model is universal, comprehensive screening for health-related social needs of community-dwelling Medicare, Medicaid, and dual-eligible beneficiaries accessing health care at participating clinical delivery sites. The model aims to identify and address beneficiaries’ health-related social needs in at least the following core areas:

  • Housing instability and quality,
  • Food insecurity,
  • Utility needs,
  • Interpersonal violence, and
  • Transportation needs beyond medical transportation.

Addressing the health-related associated with social determinants of health has long been one of the major challenges private safety-net hospitals face.

iStock_000005787159XSmallCMS anticipated participating ACOs serving their members through annual screenings of needs, increased dissemination of information about how to address health-related social needs, and appropriate referrals to community resources to meet those needs.

Among the organizations invited to apply to participate are community-based groups, health care organizations, hospitals and health systems, institutions of higher education, and government entities. In recognition of the need for a more patient-focused approach than CMS proposed in January, the number of members participating ACOs must serve has been reduced the potential award amount has been raised.

To learn more about the Accountable Health Communities model, why it has been modified, what it hopes to accomplish, and how it will operate, see this CMS fact sheet.

Docs Less Likely to Participate in ACOs in Disadvantaged Communities

A new study has found that physicians who practice in areas with higher proportions of low-income, uninsured, less-educated, disabled, and African-American residents are less likely than others to participate in accountable care organizations.

If ACOs ultimately are found to improve health care quality while better managing costs, their benefits might be limited in such communities, thereby exacerbating health care disparities.

It also would be disadvantageous to many of the communities served by the nation’s private safety-net hospitals.

health affairsTo learn more, go here to see the Health Affairs report “Physicians’ Participation In ACOs Is Lower In Places With Vulnerable Populations Than In More Affluent Communities.”

Medicare Seeks to Put Pedal to the Metal on Quality-Related Payments and Care

The federal government has unveiled its intention to pursue a significant increase in the proportion of Medicare services for which it pays based on the quality of care delivered than the quantity of care provided.

The plan was announced on Monday by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell at an event in Washington, D.C.

According to an HHS news release,

HHS has set a goal of tying 30 percent of traditional, or fee-for-service, Medicare payments to quality or value through alternative payment models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) or bundled payment arrangements by the end of 2016, and tying 50 percent of payments to these models by the end of 2018.  HHS also set a goal of tying 85 percent of all traditional Medicare payments to quality or value by 2016 and 90 percent by 2018 through programs such as the Hospital Value Based Purchasing and the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Programs.

To support this endeavor, according to the news release,

…Secretary Burwell also announced the creation of a Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network.  Through the Learning and Action Network, HHS will work with private payers, employers, consumers, providers, states and state Medicaid programs, and other partners to expand alternative payment models into their programs.  HHS will intensify its work with states and private payers to support adoption of alternative payments models through their own aligned work, sometimes even exceeding the goals set for Medicare. 

HHS appears to be pursuing these goals in part because it believes its current initiatives are bearing fruit, as the news release notes:

HHS has already seen promising results on cost savings with alternative payment models, with combined total program savings of $417 million to Medicare due to existing ACO programs – HHS expects these models to continue the unprecedented slowdown in health care spending.  Moreover, initiatives like the Partnership for Patients, ACOs, Quality Improvement Organizations, and others have helped reduce hospital readmissions in Medicare by nearly eight percent– translating into 150,000 fewer readmissions between January 2012 and December 2013 – and quality improvements have resulted in saving 50,000 lives and $12 billion in health spending from 2010 to 2013, according to preliminary estimates. 

So far, no new government programs or funding have been announced to help in the pursuit of these objectives.

iStock_000008112453XSmallTo learn more about Medicare’s intentions, see this news release announcing the initiative; this Kaiser Health News report; and three HHS fact sheets:  “Better Care. Smarter Spending. Healthier People: Why It Matters,” which can be found here; “Better Care. Smarter Spending. Healthier People: Paying Providers for Value, Not Volume,” which can be found here; and “Better Care, Smarter Spending, Healthier People: Improving Our Health Care Delivery System, which can be found here.

ACOs Show Encouraging Signs

Provider groups that just completed their first year in Medicare’s ACO programs are showing encouraging signs of producing health care savings.

Medical EquipmentIn all, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reports $380 million in savings for first-year participants.  Nearly half of the ACOs participating  in the Shared Savings Program had lower spending than projected but less than half of those  saved enough to qualify to keep any of their savings – one of the program’s main incentives for participants.

Pioneer ACOs, which take greater risks, generated $147 million in savings, with nine of the 23 participating groups spending less than projected.

To learn more about the first-year performance of ACOs and the different types of program participants, see this Kaiser Health News report and this CMS news release.

Medical Homes Model Showing Potential

The “medical homes” model for providing health care is showing promise as a way of reducing the cost of care, reducing utilization of unnecessary medical services, improving access to care, and improving population health.

patient careThese are among the findings in a meta-study by the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative.  The study brings together findings from 21 studies published between August of 2012 and last December.

Medical homes are a major component of accountable care organizations, which are viewed as another important tool in addressing rising health care costs and improving the quality of care delivered.  Many private safety-net hospitals are pursuing accountable care organization opportunities.

Read about the study and download it here, on the web site of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative.