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Federal Health Policy Update for Thursday, September 23

The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as of 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 23.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Provider Relief Fund

  • HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration has posted new information about planned distributions of additional COVID-19 supplemental funding for health care providers through the Provider Relief Fund and for qualified rural hospitals through funding made available through the American Rescue Plan.  Included in the new posting is information about:
    • Web events to explain what the agency is doing and what providers must do to pursue funding, to be held on Thursday, September 30 and Tuesday, October 5.
    • An application deadline of October 26.
    • What providers are eligible for funding.
    • Documentation grant applicants will need to submit.

Learn more from the updated Provider Relief Fund web page.

Department of Health and Human Services

COVID-19

Health Policy News

  • HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has awarded $73 million in cooperative agreement grants as part of its Public Health Informatics & Technology Workforce Development Program to strengthen U.S. public health information technology (IT) efforts, improve COVID-19 data collection, and increase representation of underrepresented communities within the public health IT workforce.  Learn more about how the money will be used and find a list of the grant recipients in this HHS news release.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Health Policy News

  • CMS has granted exceptions for certain Medicare quality reporting and value-based purchasing programs located in areas affected by Hurricane Ida.  These exceptions apply to acute-care hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, prospective payment system-exempt cancer hospitals, inpatient psychiatric facilities, inpatient rehabilitation facilities, long-term-care hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, and New Jersey.  Learn more about the exceptions and the specific geographic areas to which they apply in this CMS notice.
  • CMS has published the latest edition of MLN Matters, its online newsletter.  The new edition includes articles about various Medicare billing issues, an update of the ambulatory surgical center payment system, and more.  Find it all here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has amended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to allow for use of a single booster dose to be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series in individuals 65 years of age and older; individuals 18 through 64 at high risk of severe COVID-19; and individuals 18 through 64 years whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to COVID-19 puts them at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19.  See the FDA announcement and an explanation of the decision here.

Stakeholder Events

MACPAC – September meetings – September 24

The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) is holdings its scheduled September meeting of commissioners on Thursday, September 23 and Friday, 24 to discuss federal Medicaid and CHIP policies.  The meetings are being be held virtually.  Find the meeting agenda here and go here to register to view the sessions.

CDC – Latest CDC Recommendations for Pfizer COVID-19 Booster Vaccination – September 28

The CDC will hold a webinar on Tuesday, September 28 to give clinicians an overview of the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination.  Clinicians will learn about the vaccine booster recommendations, the safety of booster dose, and clinical guidance for using the Pfizer booster vaccine.  Go here for more information about the event and to register to participate.

HRSA – New Provider Relief Fund and Rural Hospital Grants – September 30 and October 5

The Health Resources and Services Administration will hold web events on Thursday, September 30 and Tuesday, October 5 for providers interested in pursuing Provider Relief Fund grants and funding for rural hospitals provided through the American Rescue Plan.  The purpose of the event is to provide guidance on how to navigate the application portal for seeking these grants.  Learn more here and find a link to register to participate.

CDC – Evaluating and Supporting Patients Presenting With Fatigue Following COVID-19 – September 30

The CDC will hold a webinar on evaluating and supporting patients who present with fatigue following treatment for COVID-19.  The webinar will be held on Thursday, September 30.  For further information on the subjects the webinar will cover, those who will be participating in the event, and how to join the webinar, go here.

FDA – Workshop Addressing Response to the Opioid Crisis – October 13

The FDA will hold a workshop titled “Reconsidering Mandatory Opioid Prescriber Education Through a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS)” to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide input on aspects of the current opioid crisis that could be mitigated in a measurable way by requiring mandatory prescriber education as part of a REMS effort.  The public workshop will be held on October 13 and October 14.  For information about participating in the workshop or submitting comments or materials, see this Federal Register notice.

Expand Use of Telehealth, Group Recommends

The federal government should encourage greater use of telehealth, a task force has recommended.

Among the changes recommended by the task force, it called on the federal government to make permanent some of the temporary extensions of the use of telehealth authorized for Medicare in response to COVID-19, including:

  • Lifting geographic restrictions and limitations on originating sites.
  • Allowing telehealth for various types of clinicians and conditions.
  • Acknowledging, as many states now do, that telehealth visits can meet requirements for establishing a clinician/patient relationship if the encounter meets appropriate care standards or unless careful analysis demonstrates that, in specific situations, a previous in-person relationship is necessary.
  • Eliminating unnecessary restrictions on telehealth across state lines.

In making these recommendations the task force noted that increased use of telehealth has not driven an increase in health care utilization or costs, as many feared; it has led to a decline in the frequency with which patients miss scheduled appointments; and it can prevent delays in patients seeking care and reduce exposure to pathogens.

Telehealth may be especially beneficial for private safety-net hospitals because they serve so many low-income patients for whom keeping doctors’ appointments often proves to be a challenge.  If those patients have access to remote technologies, telehealth could become a valuable tool in improving and maintaining those patients’ health.

The Taskforce on Telehealth Policy is a collaboration between the National Committee for Quality Assurance, the Alliance for Connected Care, and the American Telemedicine Association.

Learn more about the task force’s work, including its findings and recommendations, in the document “Taskforce on Telehealth Policy (TTP) Findings and Recommendations.”

MedPAC Meets

The independent agency that advises Congress and the administration on Medicare payment policies met last week in Washington, D.C.

Among the issues discussed at the meeting of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission were:

  • the merit-based incentive payment system
  • telehealth
  • a redesign of Medicare’s hospital value incentive program

Many of the issues MedPAC addresses – including those noted above – are very important to private safety-net hospitals.

Find the presentations and issue briefs for these subjects and others discussed at the MedPAC meeting here, on MedPAC’s web site.

A New Approach to Treating the Underserved

Last month Congress passed the Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes Act. The new law calls for the U.S. Department of Health and Human services to study a New Mexico project that employs distance learning to enhance the ability of the medical community to serve medically underserved areas.

Launched by the University of New Mexico in 2003, Project ECHO takes advantage of telehealth techniques to employ medical specialists who consult via videoconference with primary care providers. This approach can be employed to help patients in rural and underserved rural areas and to assist those with limited mobility who have difficulty traveling distances to specialists.

Such an approach could be beneficial for private safety-net hospitals located in federally designated medically underserved areas.

Learn more about Project ECHO in this Commonwealth Fund report.