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Federal Health Policy Update for Tuesday, November 23

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 23.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

The White House

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS announced that it has begun distributing $7.5 billion in American Rescue Plan rural payments to providers and suppliers that serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Medicare beneficiaries.  The average payment is $170,700, with payments ranging from $500 to $43 million for an entire health system.  More than 40,000 providers in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and six territories will receive these rural provider payments.  Learn more from this HHS news release.  In addition, go here for a state-by-state breakdown of the payments and here for a data set with all of the recipients of this $7.5 billion in rural provider payments.
  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration, which administers the Provider Relief Fund, has established a 60-day grace period for complying with the fund’s Reporting Period 1.  The grace period began on October 1, 2021, and will end on November 30, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. (eastern).  Learn more here, under “60-Day Grace Period – Reporting Period 1.”

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

  • HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response has posted a presentation titled “Monoclonals and More:  Issues and Opportunities with Early COVID-19 Treatment Options.”  The presentation includes information about therapeutics and their use and distribution, guidelines for determining appropriate treatments, and links to presentations and other resources.  Find the presentation here.

Health Policy Update

  • HHS has announced that it will be awarding an additional $1.5 billion to help grow and diversify the nation’s health care workforce and bolster equitable health care in the communities that need it most.  These awards are supporting the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps, and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs, which address workforce shortages and health disparities by providing scholarship and loan repayment funding for health care students and professionals in exchange for a service commitment in hard-hit and high-risk communities.  Learn more about these new resources for health care workforce development in this White House news release and another news release from HHS.
  • HHS has announced the availability of $35 million in American Rescue Plan funding to enhance and expand the telehealth infrastructure and capacity of Title X family planning providers.  HHS plans to use funds to award an estimated 60 one-time grants to active Title X grantees.  Applicants can begin the application process on Grants.gov and must apply by February 3.  Learn more from this HHS news release.
  • A new HHS report concludes that millions of Americans with private health insurance experience some kind of surprise medical billing.  The report found that surprise medical bills are relatively common among privately insured patients and can average more than $1,200 for services provided by anesthesiologists, $2,600 for surgical assistants, and $750 for childbirth-related care.  HHS has issued the report as it continues to develop regulations implementing the No Surprises Act, which was enacted earlier this year.  Learn more about the report from this HHS news release and see the full issue brief “Evidence on Surprise Billing: Protecting Consumers with the No Surprises Act.”
  • HHS has announced the creation of a new federal advisory committee, the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee.  As mandated by the No Surprises Act, the new advisory committee will be charged with providing recommendations to the secretaries of HHS, Labor, and Treasury on ways “to protect consumers from exorbitant charges and balance billing when using ground ambulance services.”  Learn more about the new Ground Ambulance and Patient Advisory Committee, its composition, and its scope of endeavor from this HHS news release and this Federal Register notice.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

COVID-19

Health Policy Update

  • CMS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation has published an evaluation of year six of its Independence at Home Demonstration, in which selected primary care practices provide home-based primary care to targeted chronically ill beneficiaries for a three-year period, with CMS tracking beneficiaries’ care experience through quality measures and paying incentives to practices that meet quality measures while generating savings for Medicare.  Go here to learn more about the program and find a link to the program’s year-six evaluation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC)

Stakeholder Events

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.

CDC – Molecular Approaches for Clinical and Public Health Applications to Detect Influenza and COVID-19 Viruses – December 9

The CDC will hold a webinar on Thursday, December 9 to share with clinicians information about molecular approaches for clinical and public health applications to detect the influenza virus and COVID-19.  Go here to learn more about the webinar and how to participate.

Surprise Billing Ban: Now the Hard Part Begins

Congress’s passage of a ban on surprise medical bills came after years of debate on the issue and was still somewhat of a surprise.

But in hindsight, passing the ban may end up being the easy part.

Now, federal officials need to develop regulations that will flesh out the ban, define terms, establish new processes, and more, and every indication is that this will be no less difficult than developing and passing legislation.

According to Politico, lobbying on future regulations has already begun, with providers, consumer advocates, insurers, and even private equity interests vying to ensure that their needs are reflected in the final guidelines, the first of which are due by July.

Learn more about the unfinished work associated with the surprise billing ban and what to expect in the coming months in the Politico article “Biden faces health industry fight over new ‘surprise’ billing ban.”

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.

A Look at Surprise Medical Bill Legislation

While Congress’s decision this week to put off addressing the surprise medical bill challenge until next year has disappointed many, that decision did not reflect any lack of ideas for what to do.

At last count, various parts of Congress were considering four major surprise medical bill proposals:  one from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, one from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one from the House Ways and Means Committee, and a compromise proposal from the Senate HELP and House Energy and Commerce committees.  Some have been around for some time while one emerged only in the past week.

The Commonwealth Fund has prepared a summary of the four proposals that includes a chart that compares where they stand on six major aspects of surprise billing legislation:

  • The medical settings to which the legislation would apply.
  • Whether they hold consumers harmless for surprise bills.
  • Whether they ban balance-billing.
  • How – or if – they establish standard rates.
  • How they resolve disputes between insurers and providers.
  • How they interact with existing state surprise medical bill laws.

NASH conveyed its perspective on surprise medical bills in a message to Congress last week.

Learn more from the Commonwealth Fund report “Update on Federal Surprise Billing Legislation: Understanding a Flurry of New Proposals.”

NASH Takes First Position on Surprise Medical Bills

Congress should address surprise medical bills in a manner that protects patients from such bills and establishes a fair negotiating process between providers and insurers, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals declared in its first public statement about the surprise medical bill issue.

The statement, developed to coincide with NASH Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. last week, explains that the biggest challenge in developing a means of addressing this problem is forging a solution that ensures that providers, including private safety-net hospitals, can negotiate adequate reimbursement for care they deliver outside of the provider networks of their patients’ insurers.

With this in mind, NASH encourages Congress to pursue a solution that follows four basic principles:

  • Surprise billing legislation should protect patients from surprise medical bills and balance billing for out-of-network services.
  • Insurers and providers should be required to negotiate, without a federal role or involvement, for payment for services provided to insured individuals by out-of-network providers.
  • Insurers should uphold the “prudent layperson standard” and provide emergency care for any condition that a prudent layperson would reasonably believe requires emergency care.
  • Federal policies should preserve rather than supersede existing state policies that meet federal minimum patient protections for insurance products that are within states’ jurisdiction.

Learn more from NASH’s new position statement on surprise medical bills.

NASH Advocacy Day

Friday September 20, 2019 is NASH Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

Today, leaders of private safety-net hospitals have traveled to the nation’s capital from across the country for NASH Advocacy Day, during which members will meet with members of Congress and congressional and committee staff to discuss federal health care policy issues that affect the ability of private safety-net hospitals to serve their communities.

For the occasion, NASH has introduced three new policy position statements:  on the importance of delaying Medicaid disproportionate share (Medicaid DSH) cuts, surprise medical bills, and the new federal regulation governing so-called public charges.  See the new position papers here.

In addition, the National Alliance of Safety-Net Hospitals is presenting its “Champion for Health Care Award” to Representative Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) for “his tireless advocacy of access to care for his constituents, the residents of Massachusetts, and all Americans.”  See the news release announcing the award here.

Surprise Medical Bills Lead Patients to Change Hospitals

Patients who receive surprise medical bills are more likely to change hospitals than those who do not, a new study has found.

According to an analysis of behavior by obstetrics patients,

…11 percent of mothers experienced a surprise out-of-network bill with their first delivery, and this was associated with an increase of 13 percent in the odds of switching hospitals for the second delivery, compared to mothers who did not experience a surprise bill.

The study found that this switching often paid dividends for those who switched:

Mothers who switched hospitals after a surprise out-of-network bill reduced their relative risk of receiving a second surprise medical bill by 56 percent, compared to mothers who did not switch after receiving their first surprise bill.

NASH staff recently met with staff of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to share private safety-net hospitals’ views on this emerging issue.

Learn more about the implications for hospitals when they send surprise medical bills in the Health Affairs study “Consumers’ Responses to Surprise Medical Bills in Elective Situations.”