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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

COVID-19

  • 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  • CMS has repealed a regulation adopted in January of this year titled “Medicare Program; Medicare Coverage of Innovative Technology (MCIT) and Definition of `Reasonable and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.

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, November 10

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, November 10.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

  • The White House announced that it will spend $785 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support community-based organizations building vaccine confidence across communities of color, rural areas, and low-income populations; bolster the efforts of Tribal communities leading the way in mitigating the spread of the virus; expand public health systems’ ability to respond to the needs of people with disabilities and older adults who have been among the highest risk for infection or death from COVID-19; and continue its mission to build a more diverse and sustainable public health workforce, including a new apprenticeship program that will train thousands of our COVID-19 community health workers and prepare them for long-term careers in public health.  Learn more from a White House fact sheet about the initiative.
  • The president has issued a memo to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) directing them to continue reimbursing states for 100 percent of the cost of using their national guard units in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic through April 1, 2022.  See that memo here.
  • The White House has posted a transcript of the November 10 press briefing given by its COVID-19 response team and public officials.  Go here for the slides presented during that briefing.

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 this Friday, November 12.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS will invest $650 million from the American Rescue Plan to strengthen manufacturing capacity for quick, high-quality diagnostic testing through rapid point-of-care molecular tests and improve Americans’ access to them.  HHS will use these funds to ramp up U.S. domestic manufacturing capacity.  Learn more from this HHS announcement.
  • HHS will spend $143.5 million in American Rescue Plan money to expand community-based efforts to conduct tailored local outreach about vaccines, build vaccine confidence, and address barriers to vaccination in their communities.  The funding will support two programs in which award recipients will develop regional and local partnerships to reach unvaccinated individuals, including pregnant women and people from underserved and high-risk communities, to help bolster COVID-19 vaccination efforts.  Learn more from this HHS news release.  Much of the funding has already been awarded but $10 million is still available, to be awarded on a competitive basis.  Learn more from this HHS funding notice.  Applications are due December 10.

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Office on Women’s Health has announced that more than 200 hospitals are participating in the HHS Perinatal Improvement Collaborative, which will focus on improving maternal and infant health outcomes by reducing disparities.  Including hospitals from all 50 states, the collaborative will be the first to evaluate how pregnancy affects overall population health by linking inpatient data of newborns to their mothers.  Learn more about the program and find a list of the participating hospitals in this HHS announcement.

HHS/Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation

Next Thursday, November 18, the CMS Innovation Center (CMMI) will host a webinar listening session at 1 p.m. (eastern).  Register for that webinar and find more information here.

CMMI has requested stakeholder input on three specific questions and NASH intends to submit responses on behalf of its members.  To do so, we need to hear from you.  Please review the CMMI questions below and send us your written responses no later than the close of business this Friday, November 12.  If you prefer to share your responses to these questions via phone, we will be happy to schedule a call with you.

Questions from CMMI

  1. What is the greatest obstacle to participating in a CMS Innovation Center or other value-based, accountable care model, and how do you recommend the CMS Innovation Center alleviate this obstacle?
  2. CMS is currently exploring quicker, more actionable data, learning collaboratives, and payment and regulatory flexibilities. What else could the CMS Innovation Center do to support clinicians and help them be successful in models?
  3. How can CMMI better incorporate patient needs and goals into models? How should the impacts of value-based care on patients be measured?

NASH staff will compile member responses and submit them to CMMI prior to next week’s listening session.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

  • Last week CMS held a webinar to explain the new federal regulation that mandates COVID-19 vaccines for all health care workers and others employed by provider organizations regulated under Medicare’s conditions of participation.  Learn more about the regulation from this video of the webinar and the slides presented during the event.  CMS also has posted an infographic about the requirement.
  • The Surgeon General has released a new community toolkit to help individuals, health care professionals and administrators, teachers, school administrators, librarians, and faith leaders to understand, identify, and stop the spread health misinformation in their communities.  Learn more from this HHS announcement and go here to see the toolkit.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Stakeholder Events

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 Monday, October 25

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Monday, October 25.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy:  MedPAC and Safety-Net Hospitals

On the heels of a recent meeting of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) during which commission members discussed the challenges inherent in attempting to identify safety-net hospitals, NASH has written to the agency to suggest that it consider a different approach to addressing that matter.  In the letter, NASH suggests that MedPAC urge Medicare to look not at individual hospitals and what kinds of patients they serve but to focus instead on vulnerable communities and then to identify the hospitals that are caring for meaningful proportions of the residents of those communities.  Go here to see NASH’s letter to MedPAC.  In response to this letter, MedPAC scheduled a meeting with NASH to discuss this concept.

NASH Advocacy:  Surprise Billing Regulation

Representatives Suozzi (D-NY), Wenstrup (R-OH), Ruiz (D-CA), and Bucshon (R-IL) are leading a bi-partisan congressional sign-on letter to HHS Secretary Becerra and others, urging the administration to revise the Surprise Billing, Part II interim final rule’s (IFR) implementation of the independent dispute resolution (IDR) process.

The letter states that

…we urge you to revise the IFR to align with the law as written by specifying that the certified IDR entity should not default to the median in-network rate and should instead consider all of the factors outlined in the statute without disproportionately weighting one factor.

NASH is listed among the supporters of this letter.

Action required:  NASH members should contact their House members today to ask them to sign on to the Suozzi-Wenstrup-Ruiz-Bucshon letter to support the successful implementation of Congress’s surprise billing ban.  The deadline for representatives to sign onto the letter is this Friday, October 29.

If you would like more information about the letter or if you need contact information for your representatives, contact Kate Finkelstein.

Provider Relief Fund:  Deadline for Submission is Tuesday, October 26

  • The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will accept applications for $25.5 billion in health care relief funds until October 26.  Go here for further information.
  • HRSA has modified some of the terms for applying for assistanceAll applicants must complete the first step of the application process (i.e., submitting their Tax Identification Number (TIN) and associated information for Internal Revenue Service (IRS) validation no later than October 26, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST.  The required IRS validation that occurs after completion of the first step may take a few days.  If an applicant submits their TIN for validation by the October 26, 2021 deadline and that TIN is subsequently validated by the IRS, the applicant will have until November 3, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST to complete and submit their application.
  • The Provider Relief Fund FAQ has been updated with seven modified or new questions on pages 4, 9, 10 (two questions), 37, and 58 (two questions); all are dated 10/20/2021.  Entities that have received Provider Relief Funds in the past and/or intend to apply for Phase 4 funds should review these changes carefully.

The White House

  • In anticipation of the FDA’s independent advisory committee meeting on October 26 and the CDC’s independent advisory committee meeting on November 2-3, the administration has unveiled a plan to ensure that if a vaccine is authorized for children ages 5-11 it is quickly distributed and made conveniently and equitably available to families across the country.  Learn more from this White House fact sheet.
  • The White House has posted transcripts of the October 20 and October 22 press briefings given by its COVID-19 response team and public officials.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has issued guidance to states about the statutory requirement for them to cover COVID-19-related treatment without cost-sharing in Medicaid and CHIP for many seniors, low-income adults, pregnant women, children, and people with disabilities who receive health coverage through these programs.  This coverage includes care for conditions that could complicate the treatment of COVID-19 in patients who are presumed positive for the virus or have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Find a news release about the guidance here and find the guidance itself here.
  • CMS has posted a new edition of MLN Connects, its online newsletter.  This latest edition includes features on new/modifications of the place of service codes for telehealth, a prescriber’s guide to Medicare prescription drug opioid policies, and more.  Go here to find these and other items.
  • In a separate, special edition of MLN Connects, CMS presents new Medicare rates and billing information for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster vaccines.
  • The CMS Innovation Center has published a document that shares its strategic direction for the coming years.  Driving Health System Transformation – A Strategy for the CMS Innovation Center’s Second Decade reviews the lessons the agency has learned over the past ten years and lays out its objectives for the next ten.  Find it here.
  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has posted the fourth evaluation report and performance year 5 (2020) financial and quality results for its Next Generation ACO Model.  Find the report by going here and scrolling down to “Performance Year 5 (2020 (XLS).”
  • CMS’s “Medicare & You” handbook is now available in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.  Go here for the agency’s announcement and links to the new handbooks.

Department of Health and Human Services

Health Policy News

  • HHS is awarding $797.5 million in American Rescue Plan funding to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children.  The funds will cover COVID-19 testing, vaccines, mobile health units, and other support for domestic violence services programs and increase support for sexual assault service providers and culturally specific services.  Learn more about the new spending and how it will be distributed in this HHS news release and additional program resources.
  • HHS proposes repealing two final rules:  “Department of Health and Human Services Good Guidance Practices,” published in the Federal Register on December 7, 2020; and “Department of Health and Human Services Transparency and Fairness in Civil Administrative Enforcement Actions,” published in the Federal Register of January 14, 2021, maintaining that “…they create unnecessary hurdles that hinder the Department’s ability to issue guidance, bring enforcement actions, and take other appropriate actions that advance the Department’s mission.”  Learn more about the rules that would be repealed and HHS’s rationale for doing so in this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • The CDC has taken a series of actions to address COVID-19 booster vaccines, deciding that:
    • The use of a single booster dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine that may be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series to individuals 65 years of age and older; 18 through 64 years of age at high risk of severe COVID-19; and 18 through 64 years of age with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19.
    • The use of a single booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may be administered at least two months after completion of the single-dose primary regimen to individuals 18 years of age and older.
    • Each of the available COVID-19 vaccines may be use as a booster dose in eligible individuals following completion of primary vaccination with a different available COVID-19 vaccine.  This is now being referred to by many as “mixing and matching.”
    • A single booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine may be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series to individuals 18 through 64 years of age with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19.

Stakeholder Events

CDC – Information about Recent Updates to CDC’s Recommendations for COVID-19 Boosters – October 26

On Tuesday, October 26 the CDC will provide an overview for clinicians of the most recent recommendations for administering COVID-19 booster vaccines and updates about the latest recommendations and clinical considerations for administering those boosters.  Go here for further information about the webinar and how to participate.

CDC – Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccines – November 4

The CDC will hold a webinar on Thursday, November 4 to provide an overview of its recommendations and clinical considerations for administering COVID-19 vaccines to children between the ages of five and eleven years old.  Go here for further information about the webinar and how 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.

Changes Coming in Innovation Center Payment Models

Future Medicare payment models will probably feature less risk for participants and a greater emphasis on health equity.

At least that is the vision shared by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services chief operating officer Jon Blum during a recent conference.

While not backing away from including risk in future value-based purchasing models, CMS and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation Center will probably propose fewer full-risk models, which the agency fears favor wealthier providers that can afford to shoulder more risk to begin with, and a greater focus on reporting race and ethnicity data among future model participants as the federal government works to close equity gaps.

In addition, CMMI will probably simplify its array of payment models and have fewer tracks within those models.

Learn more about the directions CMMI envisions moving with its Medicare alternative pay models in the near future in the Fierce Healthcare article “CMS official:  Don’t expect a lot of fully risk-based payment models going forward.”

“Oh Say Can We See?”: Ways & Means Leaders Seek CMMI Transparency

The chairman and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee have written to CMS administrator Seema Verma to ask her to address the lack of transparency in the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

In the bipartisan letter, committee chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) and ranking member Kevin Brady (R-TX) note that “…Congress established CMMI to test different innovative delivery system and payment models to improve quality and reduce costs for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries” but observe that “…significant policy changes made unilaterally by the executive branch without sufficient transparency could yield unintended negative consequences for beneficiaries and the health care community.

Their request:

We strongly urge the Agency to provide more sunshine in this process, all allow Congress, beneficiaries, and stakeholders greater opportunity to provide feedback into the policies that CMMI tests that affect millions of Americans with Medicare.

The letter also poses a series of questions about CMMI’s current endeavors.

Learn more from the letter from Representatives Neal and Brady to CMS administrator Seema Verma.

Group Seeks Preservation, Reform of Federal Innovation Effort

A coalition of 35 patient, physician, and hospital groups has written to new Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and asked him to continue the federal government’s exploration of new ways to deliver and pay for Medicare services but to seek certain improvements in how those efforts are undertaken.

The coalition Healthcare Leaders for Accountable Innovation in Medicare asked Secretary Price for a reformed Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation so that it operates with

… appropriately-scaled, time-limited demonstration projects, greater transparency, improved data-sharing, and broader collaboration with the private sector.

The coalition also called for CMMI to operate under six guiding principles:

  • foster strong, scientifically valid testing prior to expansion
  • respect Congress’s role in making health policy changes
  • consistently provide transparency and meaningful stakeholder engagement
  • improve data sharing from CMMI testing
  • strengthen beneficiary safeguards
  • collaborate with the private sector

Read the coalition’s entire letter, including a list of the group’s members, here on the web site of the Healthcare Leadership Council.