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NASH Urges MedPAC to Reconsider “Safety-Net Hospital”

Following a recent meeting of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission 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 targeting such hospitals.

In its letter, NASH urges MedPAC to recommend that Medicare 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.  NASH also points MedPAC to data that could be used in such an approach:  the “PLACES” data developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Such a change in approach, NASH writes in its letter, “…would lay a much-needed foundation for changes in the Medicare payment system that reduce barriers to access to care by making it more feasible for hospitals to serve vulnerable populations.”

Go here to see NASH’s letter to MedPAC.

NASH Lauds Creation of Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus

In a letter to the new Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals expressed its appreciation for the group’s creation and said it would like to work in partnership with the caucus to identify health inequities and help develop ways to address them.

NASH noted that private safety-net hospitals “…have been working for years to address social determinants of health that lead to health inequities,” doing so at times as part of government programs but also on their own in response to the needs of their communities.  In the letter NASH recommended several steps Congress can take to address social determinants of health and pointed to its own response to the caucus’s recent request for information on the challenges stakeholders and Congress face when working to identify and address social determinants of health.

Go here to see NASH’s letter to the Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus.

Vaccination Rates Low Among Medicaid Recipients

Individuals enrolled in Medicaid are less likely to have received COVID-19 vaccines than the population as a whole, according to a recently published report.

Among the possible reasons for this low rate, observers speculate, is greater vaccine hesitancy among low-income individuals (as identified in a nation-wide survey), less flexible work schedules, and economic barriers such as lack of transportation or child care.

This can pose a special challenge for safety-net hospitals because the communities they serve have more Medicaid beneficiaries than the typical community.

Learn more about the extent of the problem around the country and what state Medicaid programs are doing to encourage more Medicaid beneficiaries to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated in the Roll Call article “Medicaid beneficiaries less likely to get COVID-19 shots.”

 

NASH Seeks Congress’s Help With 340B

Changing hospital admissions experiences in the past year resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could jeopardize some safety-net hospitals’ continued eligibility for the section 340B prescription drug discount program and NASH is asking for Congress’s help to prevent this.

COVID-19 led to a reduction of hospitals admissions as people deferred addressing their medical problems out of fear of contracting the virus.  These reduced admissions, a one-year anomaly, could affect safety-net hospitals’ ability to continue participating in the 340B program, which is an essential tool for  helping hospitals provide low-cost prescription drugs to low-income patients in the communities they serve.

For this reason, NASH has asked members of Congress to co-sponsor and support H.R. 3203 and S. 773, which would protect hospitals from losing eligibility for the 340B program based on one year of once-in-a-lifetime admissions pattern changes.  See NASH’s message to members of Congress.

Federal Health Policy Update for Wednesday, May 19

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

NASH Advocacy

  • NASH has written to all members of Congress urging them to contact Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about directing more of its remaining CARES Act Provider Relief Fund money to private safety-net hospitals to help them serve their diverse, predominantly low-income communities during the COVID-19 emergency.  Go here to see NASH’s message to Congress.

The White House

COVID-19

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

Go here for links to these and other items.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is distributing $3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding for its mental health and substance use block grant programs.  The Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program and Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant Program are distributing $1.5 billion each to states and territories to help communities addressing mental health and substance use needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Learn more from HHS’s news release announcing the funding.
  • HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has updated its work plan for COVID-19-related audits, evaluations, and inspections scheduled for May.
  • In conjunction with the California Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, HHS’s Office of the Inspector General has issued a news release advising the public that they should not be asked by providers to pay for COVID-19 vaccines and reminding providers that they may not attempt to charge or bill consumers for administering those vaccines.  See the news release here.
  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has published information about the challenges of providing hospice care amid the COVID-19 pandemic and about providing home care during the public health emergency.

Health Policy News

Senate Finance Committee Hearing

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing today on COVID-19 flexibilities.

  • Go here to read the opening statement of the committee chair, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and go here to read the opening statement of the committee’s ranking minority member, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID).
  • Go here to see the testimony of individuals who appeared at the hearing.
  • The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has submitted a written statement to the committee.  The MedPAC statement notes that “While many of these actions have been helpful in addressing the short-term issues presented by the pandemic, continuing those changes indefinitely would have drawbacks.  Therefore, policymakers should be cautious about extending them beyond the duration of the public health emergency (PHE) or other scheduled expiration date.”  The statement pays particular attention to telehealth and post-acute care.  Go here to see the MedPAC submission “Temporary modifications of Medicare policies in response to the coronavirus public health emergency.”
  • The Government Accountability Office has submitted a report to the Senate Finance Committee on the same subject.  The GAO notes that it undertook this work, titled “Medicare and Medicaid:  COVID-19 Program Flexibilities and Considerations for Their Continuation,” because of a CARES Act provision that calls for the agency to “… conduct monitoring and oversight of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”  Find the GAO submission here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

National Institutes of Health

COVID-19

National Academy of Medicine

FEMA

Government Accountability Office

Safety-Net Hospitals Need More COVID Aid, NASH Tells Congress

The federal government should direct more of its remaining CARES Act Provider Relief Fund money to private safety-net hospitals, the National Association of Safety-Net Hospitals told members of Congress in a message delivered yesterday.

While the Provider Relief Fund has been a lifesaver for safety-net hospitals, NASH noted, the formula for distributing money put high-volume Medicaid hospitals at a disadvantage compared to the typical community hospital while separate distributions of the CARES Act money specifically for safety-net providers missed many such hospitals entirely

Last week NASH wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to bring this situation to his attention and seek his assistance, and in its Monday message to members of Congress, NASH asked those members to convey to Secretary Becerra their support for greater aid to private safety-net hospitals in future Provider Relief Fund distributions.

See NASH’s message to members of Congress.

NASH Seeks Changes in Provider Relief Fund Distributions

Concerned that some private safety-net hospitals have not received Provider Relief Fund Phase 3 distributions and that others have not received adequate grants, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has written to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to ask for changes in HHS’s approach to the CARES Act grants intended to help hospitals absorb the additional expenses they have incurred and the revenue they have lost as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.

Specifically, NASH urged HHS to:

  • Review the eligibility criteria and methodology for determining Provider Relief Fund grants to ensure that they reach true safety-net hospitals, and in particular those that serve especially large numbers of Medicaid patients.
  • Recalculate Phase 3 grants in a way that better reflects the true financial obstacles safety-net hospitals have faced throughout the COVID-19 emergency.
  • Apply more appropriate criteria and a better methodology for calculating payments in future Provider Relief Fund distributions.

Learn more from NASH’s letter to HHS Secretary Becerra.

Medicaid Coverage “Cliff” Poses Threat to Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries

Nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries do not meet the criteria for Medicaid eligibility but have so little income that they are unlikely to be able to afford their share of their Medicare costs, such as co-pays and deductibles.

This is known as the “Medicaid coverage cliff,” and because they care for so many low-income seniors, the Medicaid coverage cliff poses a bigger threat to private safety-net hospitals, and to the patients they serve, than it does to the typical community hospital.

Becker’s Hospital Review, drawing from a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs, takes a brief look at what the Medicaid cliff is and how it may affect the well-being of those affected by this cliff.  Learn more in the Becker’s Hospital Review article “5 things to know about the Medicaid coverage ‘cliff’.”

Federal Health Policy Update for Friday, March 26

Beginning this week, NASH is expanding its regular updates to encompass a broader scope of federal health policy endeavors to include other matters of importance to providers.  Feel free to share this newsletter with others in your organization or to send us the email addresses of those you think might be interested and we will send it directly to them.

The following is the latest such information from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 26.

NASH Advocacy

The Senate voted 90-2 to extend the moratorium on the two percent sequester of Medicare payments through the end of 2021.  The House will take up the bill when it returns to Washington, DC in mid-April.  The current moratorium will expire on March 31, but CMS is expected to use its authority to hold Medicare payments for up to 14 days to give the House time to pass the legislation.  NASH sent a thank you note to all 90 senators who voted for the bill.

The White House

COVID-19

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • CMS has posted the latest edition of MLN Connects, its online publication with the latest information about Medicare reimbursement policy.  The following is the table of contents of the March 25 edition, with links to the individual articles:

News

Compliance

Claims, Pricers, & Codes

MLN Matters® Articles

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19

Food and Drug Administration

COVID-19

  • The FDA announced that “Given the sustained increase in [COVID-19] viral variants in the United States that are resistant to bamlanivimab administered alone, and the availability of other authorized monoclonal antibody therapies that are expected to retain activity to these variants, the U.S. Government, in coordination with Eli Lilly and Company, will stop the distribution of bamlanivimab alone starting today, March 24, 2021.”  Using the other monoclonal antibody therapies, the FDA reasons, will increase the likelihood of successful treatment against COVID-19 variants.  Go here to see the FDA’s announcement and explanation and for links to resources that describe the available monoclonal antibodies and their differences in greater detail.

NASH Asks HHS for Provider Relief Fund Grants

Phase 3 distributions of Provider Relief Fund grants are long overdue and sorely needed by private safety-net hospitals, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals has declared in a letter to new Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

NASH’s letter to Becerra notes that the COVID-19 emergency has posed a special challenge to private safety-net hospitals and that in too many cases, those safety-net hospitals have not received appropriate support from the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund.  In its letter, NASH asks Secretary Becerra to direct HHS staff to distribute the more than $20 billion remaining in the Provider Relief Fund as soon as possible and to make safety-net hospitals a priority in that distribution.

Learn more from NASH’s letter to Secretary Becerra.