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NASH Asks Azar to Distribute CARES Act Money Now

“Distribute as soon as possible the $100 billion designated in the [CARES] Act to assist health care providers as they deal head-on with the biggest public health crisis our country has faced in more than a century,” NASH asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a letter to Azar on Friday.

In the letter, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals wrote of private safety-net hospitals tackling the COVID-19 crisis that

Hospitals and other providers need these resources – and need them in a very timely manner. Hospitals invested heavily in preparations for the challenge to come and are still paying for those and continuing investments at a time when their cash flow is at an historic low because they are no longer performing elective surgery, which provides a major portion of their revenue. Thus, hospitals need this money to pay our bills, to keep the lights on and the medical supplies coming in, and to pay our courageous caregivers.

See NASH’s letter to Secretary Azar here.

NASH Asks Feds for Resources for Hospitals

Private safety-net hospitals will need federal financial support to help in the fight against COVID-19.

That was the message the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals sent in a letter to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator Seema Verma.

The letter explained that

Hospitals need consistent, reliable, adequate cash flow to support the challenge ahead.  Our private safety-net hospitals, and others like us, are already incurring significant costs preparing for the influx of patients to come.  Most of these hospitals have stopped performing elective surgeries and have lost an important source of revenue.  Now, they are concerned about their ability to pay their bills until the anticipated surge of patients and also concerned about the potential for delays in payments once those patients arrive.  This is revenue they need to pay their bills:  to keep the lights on, the water running, the staff paid, and the patient rooms supplied and equipped.  Hospitals need this reliable, consistent flow of money – and they need it sooner rather than later.

See NASH’s letter here.

NASH Seeks Assistance With COVID-19 Needs

Provide special assistance to private safety-net hospitals to help them serve their communities during the COVID-19 national health emergency, NASH has asked in a letter to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Charles Schumer.

In particular, NASH asked the Senate leaders to include three things in future COVID-19/stimulus legislation:

  1. Funding to ensure cash flow for hospitals that are investing heavily in anticipation of a major influx of challenging patients while foregoing revenue from elective procedures.
  2. The permanent elimination of Affordable Care Act-mandated cuts in Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) funding.
  3. Protection from any new, burdensome regulations in any legislation adopted to facilitate the fight against COVID-19.

Go here to read NASH’s letter to senators McConnell and Schumer.

 

NASH Opposes Proposed 340B Data Collection

The federal government should not require hospitals to submit new data on their acquisition costs for prescription drugs they dispense to low-income patients through the section 340B prescription drug discount program, NASH has told the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In a formal comment letter in response to new data collection requirements proposed by CMS last month, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals wrote on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that

The 340B program was created by Congress to enable hospitals (and other providers) that serve low-income communities to maximize their resources when working to serve those communities. The program helps improve access to high-cost prescription drugs for low-income patients and helps put additional resources into the hands of qualified providers so those providers can do more for their low-income patients: provide more care that their patients might otherwise not be able to afford, offer more services that might otherwise be unavailable to such patients, and do more outreach into communities consisting primarily of low-income residents. This was the purpose of the 340B program when Congress created it in 1992 and Congress has not modified that purpose since that time. NASH believes that through this proposed data collection CMS is seeking to exert authority it does not have to demand of providers information to which the agency is not entitled.

In the letter, NASH also objected that the proposed data collection would be costly and burdensome for hospitals and is premature because the courts are still considering challenges to CMS’s authority to reduce 340B payments to providers; the latter is why CMS seeks this data.

Go here to see NASH’s formal comment letter to CMS.

MFAR Backlash Continues

Diverse health care and government interests are rallying around their opposition to the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability rule.

The regulation, proposed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in November would impose new limits on the ability of states to finance their share of their Medicaid spending, potentially jeopardizing provider payments and the ability of high-volume Medicaid providers to operate without suffering great losses.

In all, CMS received more than 4200 written comments in response to the proposed regulation, most of them expressing opposition.  Among those doing so were state governments, the National Governors Association, hospitals and hospital associations, nursing home operators, and health advocacy organizations.  Also among them was the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals.  In summarizing its opposition, NASH wrote in a formal comment letter to CMS on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that

While NASH supports greater transparency in Medicaid, that support is outweighed by too many troubling aspects of the proposed regulation. In this letter, NASH is especially interested in commenting on five aspects of the proposed regulation: how it would deprive states of important, established policy-making prerogatives; its creation of major new administrative burdens for state governments and for hospitals; its inappropriate regulation of financing of the state share of Medicaid spending; its proposed introduction of new, unspecified standards that state Medicaid programs would be held accountable for meeting; and its violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

See NASH’s entire letter here.

Learn more about the Medicaid fiscal accountability rule, what it seeks to do, and why so many oppose in the Stateline article “Medical Groups Slam Trump Medicaid Rule.”

Supreme Court Paves Way for Public Charge Regulation

The revised public charge regulation that will make it more difficult for some immigrants to come to the U.S. will be implemented after the Supreme Court lifted preliminary injunctions issued by lower courts that delayed the regulation’s implementation.

Under revisions of the public charge regulation introduced last year, individuals seeking entry into the U.S. and green cards who do not appear to be financially independent or have employment commitments can be denied entry if they will be dependent on means-tested public aid programs such as Medicaid or food stamps or even if they, or members of their family, appear likely to become dependent on such aid in the near future.

A number of judges throughout the country blocked the administration’s implementation of revisions of the public charge rule.  The Supreme Court’s action only lifts those injunction; it does not address the constitutionality of the regulation, leaving that matter to continue to be addressed by lower courts for now.

The challenge posed to health care providers by the updated public charge regulation is as much a matter of perception as reality:  individuals already legally in the U.S. who are not subject to the regulation have withdrawn from Medicaid out of fear of deportation while others who also are in the country legally and qualify for Medicaid are choosing not to apply for benefits for the same reason.  This, in turn, may leave some providers with more uncompensated care instead of Medicaid reimbursement for the care they provide to some of their patients.

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has conveyed its opposition to the public charge regulation to both Congress and the administration.  In a message to Congress, NASH wrote that “The new public charge regulation threatens the health of families and communities and threatens the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve those families and those communities.”  In response to the proposed changes in the regulation, NASH wrote in a formal comment letter on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that it

…believes the proposed regulation could have a chilling effect on the willingness of many legal citizens and legal non-citizens to seek out government health care programs for which they legally qualify. This could lead to millions of low-income legal citizens and legal non-citizens choosing not to seek the care to which they are entitled by law and ignoring serious illnesses and injuries until they become a crisis. When such individuals have no choice but to turn to hospital emergency departments in search of care – something hospital emergency departments are required by law to provide regardless of a patient’s ability to pay – this could overwhelm those facilities and would do so to the detriment of other patients while also producing a surge of uncompensated care, especially for private safety-net hospitals. That, in turn, could jeopardize the jobs of thousands who work in those hospitals and the economies of the communities in which those hospitals are located. It could also jeopardize access to care for residents of these same communities – including ordinary people who receive their health care coverage from private insurers and Medicare.

See NASH’s entire comment letter here.

Learn more about the Supreme Court’s decision and how it affects implementation of the public charge regulation in the New York Times article “Supreme Court Allows Trump’s Wealth Test for Green Cards.”

 

Fitch: Medicaid Block Grants, MFAR Threaten States, Providers

Medicaid block grants and the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation (MFAR) pose new financial threats to providers and states, according to Fitch Ratings, the financial rating company.

MFAR poses the greater threat, Fitch believes, noting in a new analysis that it could

…reduce total Medicaid spending nationally by $37 billion and $44 billion annually…and by $23 billion to $30 billion for hospitals alone.  States, and to some extent providers, would respond to MFAR’s implementation with measures to mitigate the negative fiscal implications.

Block grants, through what has been named the Healthy Adult Opportunity program, also pose a threat, with Fitch explaining that

Capping federal Medicaid contributions, even for a subset of beneficiaries, poses risks to state budgets and those entities reliant on state funding, including local governments and providers.  States would need to find revenue or cost savings, either in Medicaid or elsewhere, to offset reduced federal contributions.

Because private safety-net hospitals care for more Medicaid patients than the typical hospital, both proposed policy changes have a potentially greater impact on them.

Last month NASH conveyed its opposition to the proposed MFAR regulation in a formal comment letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in response to the regulation’s publication late last year.  While NASH has not commented publicly about the Healthy Adult Opportunity program, it has long been concerned about a block grant approach to Medicaid funding, writing in its 2019 advocacy agenda that

Block grants, whether based on individual states’ Medicaid enrollment or on their past Medicaid spending, could impose unreasonable limits on Medicaid spending that could potentially leave private safety-net hospitals unreimbursed for care they provide to legitimately eligible individuals. NASH will work to ensure that any new approach that involves Medicaid block grant continues to give states the ability to pay safety-net hospitals adequately for the essential services they provide to the low-income residents of the communities in which those hospitals are located.

Learn more about the potential impact of the proposed Medicaid fiscal accountability regulation and Medicaid block grants in the Fitch Ratings analysis “Fitch Rtgs: Medicaid Changes Will Affect States, NFP Healthcare Providers.”

340B Déjà Vu: CMS Seeks to Collect Data From Hospitals

For the second time in four months, the federal government has announced its intention to collect data from hospitals and other providers on what they pay for the prescription drugs they purchase through the section 340B prescription drug discount program.

Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services published a notice announcing its intention to collect this data.  Previously, health care interests sued CMS when it attempted in 2018 to reduce payments to providers for drugs purchased through the 340B program and the court ruled against CMS, maintaining that the agency did not have enough data on hospitals’ acquisition costs for the drugs to justify the proposed payment reduction.  The newly announced data collection effort seeks to rectify that shortcoming as the court considers CMS’s appeal of a similar decision in a lawsuit filed after CMS again proposed reducing 340B payments and was again rebuffed by the courts in 2019.

Under federal law, CMS must publish a notice declaring its intention to collect such data and seek input from stakeholders.  For this particular notice, stakeholders have until March 9 to respond.

CMS published a similar notice in September of 2019 announcing its intention to collect similar data.  That data collection never took place.  NASH opposed that data collection proposal in a formal comment letter to CMS, writing on behalf of private safety-net hospitals that

NASH and the nation’s private safety-net hospitals oppose the proposed collection of data involving the section 340B prescription drug discount program for three reasons:

  • we oppose CMS’s continued efforts to reduce 340B reimbursement to eligible hospitals;
  • the proposed data collection would be exceptionally burdensome; and
  • we disagree with attempting to address a matter still being litigated.

Most private safety-net hospitals participate in the 340B program and consider it a vital tool in serving the many low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

See NASH’s complete comment letter here.

To learn more about CMS’s 340B data collection effort, see the notice it published in the Federal Register and read the Becker’s Hospital Review article “CMS ready to survey 340B hospitals about drug acquisition costs.”

NASH Endorses Surprise Medical Bills Legislation

The National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has endorsed the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act of 2020, surprise medical bills legislation developed by the House Ways and Means Committee.

In a letter to the committee’s chairman and ranking member, NASH wrote that

NASH supports the bill’s protection of patients from surprise medical bills for care they receive from out-of-network providers; we support the concept of patients receiving an “Advance Explanation of Benefits”; and most of all, we support a mediation process to be used when insurers and providers do not agree on appropriate payments that requires those parties to engage in good-faith negotiations; that employs mediated dispute resolution when those negotiations do not lead to agreement on payments; and that excludes from that mediation the use of specific, standard benchmark rates.

See the entire NASH letter here.

NASH Raises Concerns About Proposed Budget in News Release

Medicare and Medicaid cuts detailed in the administration’s proposed FY 2021 budget could be harmful to private safety-net hospitals, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals declared in a news release issued in response to that proposed budget.

Among those cuts:  $465 billion in Medicare payments and $920 billion in Medicaid reductions over the next ten years.

“The extent of the proposed spending cuts is daunting,” said Ellen Kugler, NASH’s executive director.  “The payments that have been targeted for the biggest cuts are the very payments that enable safety-net hospitals to provide vital services to their communities.  Without them, the capacity of private safety-net hospitals across the country to continue serving the low-income, low-income elderly, uninsured, and medically vulnerable residents of their communities could be in serious jeopardy.”

Among the payments targeted for major cuts are Medicare disproportionate share (Medicare DSH), Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH), Medicare graduate medical education payments, Medicare bad debt reimbursement, and payments for some Medicare-covered outpatient services.

Learn more about NASH’s objections to the proposed cuts in this NASH news release.