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NASH Registers Concerns Over Uncompensated Care Audits

The process the federal government is employing to audit the uncompensated care costs that hospitals report to Medicare is plagued with problems, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has written in a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Those problems could result in reduced Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicare DSH) to private safety-net hospitals in the future, NASH warned in the letter.

According to NASH, problems with the audits of hospitals’ Medicare cost report S-10 worksheets, where they report their uncompensated care, include inconsistencies in the methods auditors are using and the data they demand and unreasonable deadlines for submitting requested supplemental data.

To address these problems, NASH asked CMS to standardize the auditing process and to convey decisions about auditing standards, methodologies, and time frames to hospitals.

In light of these problems, NASH also asked CMS not to use audited data to calculate Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments for FY 2020.

The S-10 audits are so important to private safety-net hospitals because the uncompensated care reported on the S-10 is used in the calculation of participating hospitals’ Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments.  When auditors reduce eligible hospitals’ uncompensated care data, that will result in future reductions of the Medicare DSH payments hospitals receive.  Those Medicare DSH payments play a vital role in helping to underwrite the cost of the care private safety-net hospitals provide to uninsured patients, so any undeserved reduction in those payments could hurt those hospitals and result in reduced access to care in the communities they serve.

Learn more by reading NASH’s letter to CMS about current challenges with uncompensated care audits.

NASH Unveils 2019 Agenda

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has unveiled its public policy advocacy agenda for 2019.

That agenda explains that NASH will:

  • Address Medicare issues such as continuing threats to private safety-net hospitals’ Medicare DSH payments, audits of the Medicare cost report’s S-10 form, graduate medical education payments, potential cuts in bad debt, 340B, the participation of private safety-net hospitals in value-based purchasing and alternative payment model programs, and the expected national conversation about “Medicare for all.”
  • Address Medicaid issues such as the adequacy of Medicaid DSH payments, possible reductions in Medicaid eligibility and benefits, the implications of a new proposal to define whether new immigrants and their families pose a threat of becoming “public charges,” the possible introduction of Medicaid block grants, and possible new restrictions on how states may finance their Medicaid programs.
  • Work to protect private safety-net hospitals from federal spending cuts.
  • Reintroduce itself to Congress and the administration.
  • Seek to enhance its ability to help shape government health care policy in Washington by recruiting more members.

For NASH’s complete 2019 advocacy agenda click here

Medicare Announces FY 2019 Inpatient Payments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has released its FY 2019 payment schedule for Medicare inpatient services.

Highlights of the FY 2019 inpatient prospective payment system regulation include:

  • A 1.75 percent increase in fee-for-service rates.
  • A $1.5 billion increase in Medicare disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicare DSH).
  • Major reductions of the quality measures hospitals must report for Medicare’s inpatient quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs.
  • A requirement that hospitals post their standard charges on the internet.

Learn about these and other aspects of Medicare’s FY 2019 inpatient prospective payment system regulation by seeing this Medicare fact sheet or go here to see the 2593-page (!) regulation itself.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Changes in Medicare Payments (Part 3 of 3)

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Association of Urban Hospitals has offered extensive comments on CMS’s proposed regulation describing how it intends to pay hospitals for Medicare-covered services in FY 2019.  NAUH offered these comments in response to CMS’s request for stakeholder input.

In this space yesterday NAUH presented its comments on the Medicare Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, quality reporting, multi-campus hospitals, and documentation required for Medicare cost reports.  On Wednesday NAUH presented its comments to CMS regarding how the agency proposes calculating Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) payments in the coming fiscal year.  Today, NAUH shares its views on aspects of the proposed regulation that address the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program, Medicare’s quality reporting program, multi-campus hospitals, and documentation required when filing Medicare cost reports.

Today, NAUH shares its response to CMS’s request for comments on the Medicare area wage index system.

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Medicare Area Wage Index:   Response to Request for Comment

While acknowledging the challenges that the current Medicare area wage index poses at times, in general NAUH supports the current Medicare area wage index system and believes it superior to any alternative that has been proposed in recent years.  We believe wage adjustments based on the cost of labor in different parts of this country are absolutely essential for Medicare because those costs vary so greatly in different geographic areas.  The concerns periodically expressed by some that certain parts of the country are ill-served by the current wage index system are, in our view, based on sentiment and emotion rather than on fact; the data does not support their assertions, and when circumstances change, the current system gives those who feel ill-served by that system ample and fair opportunities to address what they perceive to be inappropriate treatment.

We are especially concerned about a proposal that appears to resurface every few years:  that the wage data upon which wage adjustments are made should come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) rather than from actual, real-time hospital wage data.  NAUH believes this is a bad idea.  We do not see the value of using broad categories of data that fail to reflect real employment markets and conditions when actual hospital wage data that does reflect actual hospital wage costs is available and verifiable.

One of the most important factors in wage index calculations, for example, is wages paid to nurses.  BLS data, however, does not capture important differences within the nursing profession, inappropriately lumping nurses who work in different settings into a single category.  In so doing, BLS data ignores the sometimes considerable differences in skill and education levels required of nurses in different settings – hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, public health facilities, and others – and the considerable differences in wages required to recruit nurses to these different settings and then retain them.  Hospital nurses, for example, require a different, higher level of skill and education than nurses in other settings.  They also work in a more stressful environment and work less desirable hours, including evening and overnight shifts.  As a result, hospitals must offer nurses more money than nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and others.  Some states, moreover, have legal nurse staffing requirements that increase the demand for hospital nurses, which in turn increases how much money hospitals must pay to ensure that they can meet their nurse staffing requirements.  BLS data reflects none of these distinctions and therefore would offer a poor foundation upon which to make broad policy decisions that would have a major impact on hospitals and, no less important, on the communities hospitals serve.  In addition, reporting wage data to BLS is voluntary, and in any geographic areas where BLS concludes that it did not receive enough responses to calculate average wage costs, it infers such data.  NAUH disapproves of this approach and again believes it is better to use actual hospital wage data than incomplete and possibly even inferred data.

NAUH strongly encourages CMS to reject any shift to the use of BLS data in the calculation of Medicare wage adjustments and instead urges CMS to continue to base hospital wage adjustments on real hospital wage costs as reported by hospitals and as audited periodically by CMS.  In addition, if CMS wishes to pursue possible changes in the wage index system, NAUH urges it subject the process to fresh analysis – many of the reviews that call attention to the system’s challenges are outdated – and to convene a broad-based group of providers and other stakeholders to evaluate the challenges and explore potential improvements or alternatives.

Helping Safety-Net Hospitals Help Their Patients

A new report published on the Health Affairs Blog describes the continuing challenges safety-net hospitals face and offers suggestions for helping them meet those challenges.

The challenges, according to the report, are the virtual elimination of the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate; the continued decline in the amount of Medicare disproportionate share hospital money (Medicare DSH) provided to safety-net hospitals; and hospital closures that shift more of the burden for caring for uninsured patients onto a smaller pool of safety-net hospitals.  The result is under-served patients and new financial risks for the hospitals that remain after some safety-net hospitals close because of the large amounts of uncompensated care those hospitals continue to provide.

To address these challenges, the report offers three potential solutions:

  • Congress should revisit the Medicare DSH cuts.
  • States should target their DSH money to the hospitals providing the most uncompensated care.
  • Non-profit non-safety-net hospitals that stabilize uninsured emergency patients and then direct them to safety-net hospitals should be required to play a longer-term role in the care of such patients as part of their required community benefit or risk losing their tax-exempt status.

Learn more about the challenges safety-net hospitals continue to face and some of the possible solutions to those problems by going here, to the Health Affairs Blog, to see the report “Safety-Net Health Systems at Risk:  Who Bears The Burden Of Uncompensated Care?”

New 340B Bill Proposed

A new bill introduced in the House seeks to bring greater transparency to the controversial 340B prescription drug discount program.

Under H.R.5598, proposed by Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter (R-GA), hospitals would be required to report the outpatient care they provide to low-income patients in both their main hospital and at pediatric care sites.  Hospitals already separately report the inpatient care they provide to such patients.

According to Representative Carter,

I introduced this legislation today because I believe the 340B program is very important, but it needs to be improved.  340B is an outpatient program and currently hospitals do not have to report low-income utilization in outpatient settings. This legislation adds an additional layer of transparency to allow us to better understand the patient makeup of DSH hospitals to improve the program and ensure it is truly being used in the most effective way for our nation’s most vulnerable patients.

The 340B program provides discounts to qualified hospitals when they dispense drugs on an outpatient basis to low-income patients.  All Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) hospitals, along with other providers that meet formal criteria, qualify to participate in the program.  All NAUH members participate in the 340B program.

Learn more about the bill from this news release from Representative Carter or see the bill itself.

 

CMS Proposes Changes in Inpatient Rates, Medicare DSH, and Wage Index

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a proposal detailing how it envisions paying for Medicare services in FY 2019 under its inpatient prospective payment system.

Yesterday this space features a summary of the proposed regulation, with an emphasis on aspects of the rule of greatest importance to private safety-net hospitals.

Today, we address Medicare inpatient rates, Medicare disproportionate share payments (Medicare DSH) and the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet, and the Medicare area wage index.

Inpatient Rates

CMS proposes increasing Medicare inpatient rates 1.75 percent in FY 2019.  This reflects the projected hospital market basket update of 2.8 percent reduced by a 0.8 percentage point productivity adjustment, increased by a 0.5 percentage point adjustment required by legislation, and reduced 0.75 percentage points as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Medicare DSH Uncompensated Care Payments and the S-10

CMS proposes distributing $8.25 billion in Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments in FY 2019, a $1.5 billion increase from FY 2018, citing as its reason for this increase both an increase in the CMS Office of the Actuary’s estimate of payments that would otherwise be made for Medicare DSH and an updated estimate of the change in the percentage of uninsured individuals since 2014 based on the latest available data.

CMS also proposes continuing its phase-in of the use of S-10 data in the calculation of Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments.  FY 2019 would be year two of this phase-in, and CMS proposes using S-10 data from FY 2014 and FY 2015 cost reports, in combination with insured low-income days data from FY 2013 cost reports, to determine the distribution of Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments.

CMS is engaged in limited review of some of the uncompensated care data hospitals report on their S-10 form.  According to the proposed rule, these efforts have focused on three types of problems:  unreasonably high cost-to-charge ratios, significant increases in charity care from FY 2014 to FY 2015, and hospitals that report uncompensated care that exceeds 50 percent of their operating costs.

 Medicare Area Wage Index

Every three years CMS updates the wage index to reflect more recent data it collects from the occupational mix survey.  FY 2019 is the first year of a new three-year period for using updated data, and this will result in greater changes in wage indexes than might otherwise be expected from year to year.

CMS proposes changing the deadline for when a hospital that reclassifies from urban to rural will have that reclassification considered in the development of the wage index for a fiscal year.  This proposal would change the threshold from being based on the application’s date of submission to the application’s date of approval.

CMS also proposes changes that would address certain situations arising from lags between when wage index data is reported and when that data is evaluated for reclassification purposes.  These changes would address lag issues for new remote locations of hospitals located in counties participating in group reclassifications and for single-hospital MSAs where new hospitals have opened but that have no data in the wage index files for that MSA.

FY 2019 will mark the first year in which the imputed rural floor (which exists in states where there are no rural areas) will be eliminated.  CMS announced this in last year’s rule.  The only states to which the imputed rural floor applied were Delaware, New Jersey, and Rhode Island and this change will actually only affect hospitals in Rhode Island.

Wage Index Invitation to Comment

The proposed rule describes past efforts to revise the wage index, including past proposals from MedPAC and others.  It invites interested parties to submit comments on regulatory and policy improvements related to the wage index.

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Tomorrow we will look at multi-campus hospitals, the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, and the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program.  On Thursday we will examine the Medicare value-based purchasing program, the hospital inpatient quality reporting program, electronic clinical quality measures, and price transparency.

You also can learn more by reviewing the entire proposed 1883-page rule here or reading the CMS fact sheet here.

 

CMS Publishes Proposed FY 2019 Inpatient PPS Regulation

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a proposal detailing how it envisions paying for Medicare services in FY 2019 under its inpatient prospective payment system.

The following are the proposed rule’s highlights:

  • A 1.75 percent proposed increase of inpatient rates.
  • A $1.5 billion increase in the Medicare DSH uncompensated care payment pool during year two of the three-year phase-in of the use of S-10 uncompensated care data to calculate those payments.
  • The renaming of CMS’s “meaningful use” program to “promoting interoperability,” accompanied by major cuts in the number of measures hospitals must report as part of Medicare’s various quality programs.
  • A greater emphasis on the exchange of health care data among providers.
  • Several changes involving the Medicare area wage index system.
  •  Several requests for information:  one on promoting the exchange of data among hospitals, one on how to foster greater transparency of hospital prices, and one seeking recommendations for regulatory and policy changes to the Medicare wage index.

In the next three days this site will present more details about aspects of the proposed regulation that are of greatest interest to private safety-net hospitals.  The following is a list of what will be covered:

  • Tuesday – inpatient rates, Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) and the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet, and the Medicare area wage index
  • Wednesday – multi-campus hospitals, the Medicare and Meidcaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive programs, and the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program
  • Thursday – the Medicare value-based purchasing program, the hospital inpatient quality reporting program, electronic clinical quality measures, and price transparency

You also can learn more by reviewing the proposed 1883-page rule here or reading the CMS fact sheet here.

NAUH Asks House to Block S-10 Data in Medicare DSH Calculation

In response to a request from the House Ways and Means Committee’s Health Subcommittee for suggestions from stakeholders on ways to improve the delivery of Medicare services and eliminate statutory and regulatory obstacles to more effective care delivery, NAUH has asked the committee to require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to continue using the low-income days proxy for 2013 in the calculation of Medicare disproportionate share payments (Medicare DSH) and not use S-10 uncompensated care data in that calculation until the S-10 form’s instructions have been improved and until the quality of the data hospitals report on an improved S-10 can be verified through audits.

After years of considering such an approach, Medicare adopted the use of the S-10 in the calculation of Medicare DSH payments in its final FY 2017 inpatient prospective payment system regulation, which was published earlier this month.

NAUH has long opposed the use of S-10 data for this purpose, maintaining that it is inaccurate, lacks uniformity, is subject to manipulation, and is not verified through auditing.  All private safety-net hospitals qualify for Medicare DSH payments and those payments help ensure access to care for the many low-income residents of the communities these hospitals serve.

See NAUH’s message to the House Ways and Means Committee here.

NAUH Comments on Proposed Changes in Medicare Payments (Part 5 of 5)

In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the National Association of Urban Hospitals has offered extensive comments on why the Medicare cost report’s S-10 worksheet is not an appropriate tool to use when calculating hospital Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH) uncompensated care payments.

In support of this view and in response to the publication of CMS’s draft inpatient prospective payment system regulation detailing how it envisions paying acute-care hospitals in FY 2018, NAUH took advantage of the formal stakeholder comment period to offer documentation, including examples, of the shortcomings of the S-10.  In the letter, NAUH also commented on proposed changes in Medicare’s hospital readmission reduction program, hospital inpatient rates, the Medicare area wage index system, and quality reporting and advocated the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care providers.

This week NAUH presents excerpts from this letter.  The schedule for this week is as follows:

  • Tuesday– Medicare DSH uncompensated care payments and the S-10
  • Wednesday – the Medicare hospital readmissions reduction program
  • Thursday – Medicare inpatient rates, the area wage index, and quality reporting
  • today– the preservation of states’ ability to make supplemental payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care organizations

Preserve Medicaid Supplemental Payments Made Through Managed Care

 The Medicaid supplemental payment rule finalized on January 17, 2017 imposes new limits on states’ ability to increase or create new pass-through payments for hospitals, physicians, and nursing homes through Medicaid managed care contracts.  The rule calls for a ten-year phase-out of such pass-through payments.

NAUH urges CMS to withdraw the portion of the regulation that would prohibit states’ use of pass-through payments to hospitals through Medicaid managed care contracts.  At a time when federal policy-makers are looking to give states greater flexibility, not less, in how they operate their Medicaid programs, such a policy reduces that flexibility and creates a burdensome environment.  There are already a number of federal limits on state Medicaid programs, including state upper payment limits, statewide hospital DSH caps, and hospital-specific DSH caps, and another limit is unnecessary and will hinder the ability of states to operate their Medicaid programs effectively.  More important, from NAUH’s perspective, is that the harm of eliminating the ability of states to make pass-through payments through Medicaid managed care contracts will be felt most heavily by private, non-profit urban safety-net hospitals.  For these reasons, NAUH urges CMS to withdraw its regulation phasing out the ability of states to make these pass-through payments.

In addition, when the rule was proposed last year, that ten-year phase-out period was to begin in 2017 and end in 2027, but the final rule moved that phase-out period back a year, from 2016 through 2026.  Most states, including those in which many urban safety-net hospitals are located, employ such pass-through payments and the resources these payments provide are essential to the effective operation of these urban safety-net hospitals.  It was because of the clear importance of these payments to their recipients that CMS conceived of the ten-year phase-out period, so NAUH was disappointed to learn that in the final rule CMS effectively turned that ten-year phase-out-period into a nine-year phase-out period by moving the start date of that period to a time before the final rule was published.  NAUH urges CMS to reconsider this aspect of the proposed rule and – if it does not withdraw the rule – to restore the originally proposed start date to the ten-year phase out.

Finally, NAUH urges CMS to delay implementation of all aspects of the rule until it provides appropriate guidance to the states.  Currently, neither states nor hospitals understand what is expected of them and how they should proceed under the new requirements, and until they receive such guidance, they are not in a position to initiate the steps needed to come into compliance.  This poses a special burden for private, non-profit urban safety-net hospitals because in many states they are highly dependent on these pass-through payments.

See the full NAUH letter here.