Federal Health Policy Update for Monday, August 30

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

Temporary Suspension of COVID-19 Data Reporting Requirements for Some Hospitals

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has announced that federal hospital COVID-19 reporting requirements for the entire state of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi have been suspended for seven days in response to Hurricane Ida.  While hospitals in the affected areas may still report their data if they wish they are not required to do so and reporting for this period is not expected to be back-filled.  The office will continue to monitor the storm’s impact and this suspension could be extended or expanded to additional areas depending on conditions in the region.

Department of Health and Human Services

  • HHS has declared a state of public emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi because of the effects of Hurricane Ida.  See the HHS announcement for more about what this means.
  • HHS has issued guidance with essential information for states as they navigate the options available to advance COVID-19 vaccination and testing and the Medicaid program’s broader aim of providing health coverage for millions of eligible individuals.  To help states support families and communities and to continue to address health disparities, CMS is providing guidance to states about additional American Rescue Plan funding to promote the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for eligible children and adults enrolled in Medicaid.  Among the areas the new guidance addresses are COVID-19 testing in schools, coverage of habilitation services, enhancing access to COVID-19 vaccines, incentives for states to expand Medicaid, and reducing health disparities.  Learn more from this HHS news release, which includes links to several documents HHS has issued in support of this initiative.
  • HHS has established an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity in response to President Biden’s executive order calling for tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad.  The office is charged with:
    • Identifying communities with disproportionate exposures to climate hazards and vulnerable populations.
    • Addressing health disparities exacerbated by climate impacts to enhance community health resilience.
    • Promoting and translating research on public health benefits of multi-sectoral climate actions.
    • Assisting with regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and criteria air pollution throughout the health care sector, including participating suppliers and providers.
    • Fostering innovation in climate adaptation and resilience for disadvantaged communities and vulnerable populations.
    • Providing expertise and coordination to the White House, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and federal agencies related to climate change and health equity deliverables and activities, including Executive Order implementation and reporting on health adaptation actions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
    • Promoting training opportunities to build the climate and health workforce and empower communities.
    • Exploring opportunities to partner with the philanthropic and private sectors to support innovative programming to address disparities and health sector transformation.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has extended the deadline for providers, FQHCs, and associations to apply for grants under its “Promoting Resilience and Mental Health Among Health Professional Workforce” program from August 30 to September 20.  $29 million in grant funding is available.  Learn more about the grants and the application process here.
  • HRSA has extended the deadline for applications for another public safety workforce resiliency training program from August 30 to September 20.  This program, which will award up to $68 million in grants, is part of a program to plan, develop, operate, or participate in health professions and nursing training activities using evidence-based or evidence-informed strategies, to reduce and address burnout, suicide, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders and promote resiliency among health care students, residents, professionals, paraprofessionals, trainees, public safety officers, and employers of such individuals in rural and underserved communities.  Learn more about the program and the grant opportunity here.
  • HRSA has awarded $10.7 million from the American Rescue Plan to expand pediatric mental health care access by integrating telehealth services into pediatric care.  Learn more about the programs funded by these resources and the recipients of this grant in this HHS announcement.
  • HRSA will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing changes in the agency’s organization and operations.  See a pre-publication version of the notice here.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services


Health Policy News

  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  The latest edition has an article on revised ICD-10 code sets, an update on monoclonal antibodies, and more.  Find it here.
  • CMS announced that Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) participating in the Medicare Shared Savings Program in 2020 earned performance payments (shared savings) totaling nearly $2.3 billion while saving Medicare approximately $1.9 billion.  Learn more about the performance of ACOs in the Medicare Shared Savings Program from this CMS news release,
  • CMS has announced three new major appointments:   Dr. Ellen Montz as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight; Dr. Natalia Chalmers as its first-ever Chief Dental Officer in the Office of the Administrator; and Dara Corrigan as Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Program Integrity.  Learn more about the new officials and the positions to which they have been appointed in this CMS news release.

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has approved a first-of-its-kind drug-free rehabilitation system intended to treat moderate to severe upper extremity motor deficits associated with chronic ischemic strokes.  Learn more about this new technology and its application in this FDA news release.

National Institutes of Health

  • The NIH has begun a clinical trial to assess the antibody response to an extra dose of an authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine in people with autoimmune disease who did not respond to an original COVID-19 vaccine regimen.  The trial also will investigate whether pausing immunosuppressive therapy for autoimmune disease improves the antibody response to an extra dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in this population.  Learn more in this NIH news release.

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC)

  • MedPAC has submitted formal comments to CMS on that agency’s proposed end-stage renal disease (ESRD) prospective payment system for 2022.  Read its letter here.

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

MACPAC has posted a fact sheet on Medicaid coverage of qualified residential treatment programs for children in foster care.

Stakeholder Event

MedPAC Meeting – September 2 and 3

MedPAC will hold its September public meetings remotely on Thursday, September 2 and Friday, September 3.  To register to view the Thursday, September 2 session (from 1:15 to 5:15 eastern) go here and to register to view the Friday, September 3 session (9:30 until noon eastern) go here.  To see the agenda for the two sessions and find supporting materials, go here.



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.”

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.