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NASH Asks Congress to Help Preserve Federal COVID-19 Aid for Hospitals

Protect the COVID-19 aid the federal government has given to private safety-net hospitals, NASH has asked in a letter to Congress.

The letter refers to changes in how the Department of Health and Human Services wants hospitals to calculate the revenue they lost as a result of COVID-19 – the justification in part for the Provider Relief Fund payments hospitals have received through the CARES Act.  In June, HHS told hospitals how to make that calculation but late last month it changed those directions in ways that could force many private safety-net hospitals and others to return some or even much of the federal aid they received.

In the letter, NASH asks members of Congress to sign a bipartisan letter asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar to restore the June instructions for calculating COVID-19-related lost hospital revenue.

Go here to read NASH’s message to Congress.

 

Congress Gives Hospitals Medicaid DSH Relief

Medicaid DSH allocations to states will not be reduced right away thanks to a new continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 11.

The Medicare disproportionate share allocation cuts to the states, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but delayed by Congress several times, were delayed again earlier this year but scheduled to take effect on November 11.  With the latest continuing resolution, the cuts will be delayed yet another month.

Learn more about the delay of Medicaid DSH cuts and other aspects of the continuing resolution that affect hospitals in the Healthcare Dive article “Providers win Medicare loan extension, DSH relief but lose other asks in stop-gap spending law.”

Public Charge Rule Takes Effect

The “public charge rule” that the administration introduced in 2019, only to have it challenged in the courts, is now being enforced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after a federal court lifted an injunction on its implementation.

The rule authorizes USCIS to deny a green card to any immigrant who receives certain public benefits – such as food stamps, public housing vouchers, welfare, or Medicaid – for more than 12 months within any three-year period.  The expressed purpose of the rule is to deny green cards to individuals who may become dependent on publicly funded services – a so-called “public charge.”

NASH opposed the public charge rule when it was proposed in 2018, expressing concern that many immigrants – including those who are eligible for Medicaid and for whom applying for Medicaid benefits would not jeopardize their immigration status – would choose not to apply for Medicaid and would instead turn to private safety-net hospitals and others like them for care when they are sick or injured, thereby increasing the uncompensated care burden for hospitals that already serve large numbers of uninsured, under-insured, and Medicaid patients.  See NASH’s letter expressing this and other views here and go here for a NASH statement about the public charge rule.

Learn more about the USCIS’s intentions for implementing the public charge rule here and learn more about the latest developments on this issue in the article “Trump administration reimposes ‘public charge’ rule following court victory” in the online publication The Hill.

Back Off 340B Cuts, HHS Tells Drug Company

Eli Lilly and Company is being presumptuous in assuming that the federal government will approve its plan to cease providing some federally mandated prescription drug discounts under the section 340B prescription drug discount program and does so at its own peril, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services warned the company in a strongly worded letter.

Without addressing the merits of Eli Lilly’s request, HHS found the manner in which the company sought to force the federal government’s hand on the matter to be unacceptable.  HHS also questioned the timing of the company’s request in its recent letter, writing that

…we believe the timing of your pricing changes is, at the very least, insensitive to the recent state of the economy.  Although the economy is rebounding at a record rate, the unemployment and under-employment rates are still temporarily higher than at the beginning of the year due to COVID-19.  Many Americans and many small businesses have had difficulty making ends meet.  Lilly, on the other hand, seems to be enjoying an outstanding year.

The HHS letter also observes that

…during this same period, most health care providers, many of which are covered entities under section 340B, were struggling financially and requiring federal assistance from the Provider Relief Fund established by the CARES Act.  Many continue to struggle and depend on emergency taxpayer assistance.  It is against this backdrop that you are effectively increasing the price of 10 mg and 20 mg Cialis by more than 500,000 percent and have done the same for other drugs in your portfolio.

The 340B program, which enables hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients to purchase prescription drugs at a discount to dispense to such patients on an outpatient basis, has long been a vital tool in the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their community.  NASH has long supported the program, doing so most recently in a letter earlier this month to members of Congress.

The HHS letter to Eli Lilly and Company – one of five companies attempting to redefine 340B requirements – concludes with a warning that should the company proceed with its plan, doing so could result in legal action “…in the event that Lilly knowingly violates a material condition of the program that results in over-charges to grantees and contractors.”

Go here to see the HHS letter to Eli Lilly and Company.

MFAR is Dead

At least for now.

The controversial Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation, slated for implementation this fall over the objections of many health care stakeholders, will not move forward at this time.

In a tweet earlier this week, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma wrote that

We’ve listened closely to concerns that have been raised by our state and provider partners about potential unintended consequences of the proposed rule, which require further study.  Therefore, CMS is withdrawing the rule from the regulatory agenda.

If implemented, opponents maintained, the regulation would have:

  • Deprived states of important, established policy-making prerogatives.
  • Created major new administrative burdens for state governments and hospitals.
  • Inappropriately regulated financing of the state share of Medicaid spending.
  • Introduced new, unspecified standards for state Medicaid programs.

While CMS maintained that MFAR would have enhanced the transparency of state Medicaid programs, the rule’s opponents maintained that it could lead to a major reduction of resources for serving the Medicaid population.

NASH was among those opponents, arguing that the regulation could have hurt private safety-net hospitals and others that serve low-income communities by inappropriately regulating how states can finance their Medicaid programs.  CMS proposed the rule last November and  submitted formal comments expressing its opposition in January and endorsed legislation to prohibit the rule’s implementation in July.

It is worth noting that in “withdrawing the rule from the regulatory agenda,” Verma did not preclude the possibility of reintroducing MFAR at some point in the future.

Learn more from article “Trump administration backing off Medicaid rule that states warned would lead to cuts” in the online publication The Hill.

 

Eliminate Medicaid DSH Cut, NASH Asks Congress

A Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government in FY 2021 should eliminate a cut in Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) allotments to the states, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has written in a letter to congressional leaders.

The cut was mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act but has never been implemented.

In its letter to congressional leaders, NASH wrote that

The Medicaid DSH cut was predicated on the expectation that the Affordable Care Act would greatly reduce the number of uninsured Americans, and while it has, millions remain uninsured. Just this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of Americans without health insurance rose in 2019 – for the third consecutive year – and the job loss associated with COVID-19 is expected to continue this trend in 2020. As a result, private safety-net hospitals and others like them, serving communities with large numbers of low-income and uninsured residents, have never needed the resources afforded by Medicaid DSH more than they do today. Congress has always questioned the wisdom of this cut and has never allowed those cuts to go into effect. The most recent delay expires after November 30.

Learn more from NASH’s Medicaid DSH letter to congressional leaders.

NASH Asks Congress to Help Prevent Attempt to Undermine 340B

Pharmaceutical companies are attempting to prevent safety-net hospitals and others from receiving the full benefits of the section 340B prescription drug discount program and the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals is asking members of the House of Representatives to sign a congressional letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking to him intervene and stop the pharmaceutical companies.

In asking members of Congress to sign onto the bipartisan letter, NASH notes that

The 340B program is essential for private safety-net hospitals and others like them throughout the country, enabling them to obtain discounts on prescription drugs they dispense on an outpatient basis to qualified, low-income patients.  The program greatly enhances the ability of hospitals to serve their low-income patients and does not cost taxpayers a single dime, but in recent weeks several pharmaceutical companies have taken steps to prevent hospitals from receiving the prescription drug discounts that Congress clearly intended when it created the 340B program nearly 30 years ago.

Learn more about the 340B problem and what NASH and others are asking Secretary Azar to do to help in this NASH message to members of Congress.

 

340B Benefits in Jeopardy?

340B discounts appear to be in jeopardy as pharmaceutical companies make it more difficult for qualified hospitals to get access to discounted prescription drugs.

One pharmaceutical company reportedly will stop offering discounted drugs to contract pharmacies; another proposes limiting sales of certain medications; and yet others may require claims from contract pharmacies.

Providers that serve especially high proportions of low-income patients are eligible to participate in the 340B program, which provides discounts on prescription drugs that they dispense to outpatients.  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.  NASH has urged Congress to protect the program, doing so most recently in this July letter to Senate leaders.

Learn more about the challenges providers face in ensuring their continued access to discounted prescription drugs for their low-income patients in the Fierce Healthcare article “Drugmakers getting bolder in fight over 340B drug discounts.”

NASH Asks HHS for Provider Relief Fund Money for Private Safety-Net Hospitals

The federal government should direct CARES Act Provider Relief Fund money specifically to private safety-net hospitals, NASH wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma.

Some private safety-net hospitals, NASH noted in its letter, have not received assistance from any targeted Provider Relief Fund distributions.  To rectify this, NASH urged administration officials to “…designate a portion of the remaining Provider Relief Fund money for this purpose…” and to distribute that money to

…hospitals eligible for the section 340B prescription drug discount program or those with a DSH patient percentage high enough to meet the threshold for 340B eligibility for disproportionate share hospitals and did not receive funding from any other targeted safety-net distribution.

See NASH’s letter here.

Loan Repayment Looms for Hospitals

Unless Congress intervenes, hospitals will soon begin repaying massive federal loans they received to help them cope with the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The loans, authorized by the federal CARES Act, were made through the Accelerated and Advance Loan Program, and in all, Medicare made nearly $100 billion in such loans to providers.  Under the legislation, Medicare was to begin recouping the loans 120 days after hospitals received them, with recoupment coming by Medicare ceasing to pay hospitals’ Medicare claims until the full amount of the loan was repaid.

Now the loans are coming due but hospitals are saying they are not ready to forego all of their Medicare revenue.

While some hospital groups have asked for 100 percent forgiveness for the loans, others are calling for a combination of extending the payback period and reducing the interest rate for those that fail to complete repayment in a timely manner.

In a letter to Senate leaders last month on behalf of private safety-net hospitals, NASH wrote that it

… urges you to forgive the federal Medicare revenue advanced to hospitals through the CARES Act’s Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. Because of the unprecedented length and persistence of this public health emergency, we believe many hospitals – especially safety-net hospitals – will never recover the revenue we have lost in recent months. Most of us expect to be able to restore financial equilibrium, but we will not be able to do so if we have this enormous debt hanging over our heads.

Both House Democrats’ HEROES Act and Senate Republicans’ HEALS Act attempt to address the loan situation – albeit in different ways – but neither calls for forgiving the loans entirely.

Learn more about the challenges hospitals face with their obligation to repay Accelerated and Advance Loan Program money and how Congress is looking at that challenge in this Washington Post article.