Cassidy, Shaheen Ask CMS to Revise Interest Rate on Advance Payments

Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are asking the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to revise its interest rates for Medicare’s Accelerated and Advance Payments Program. They note the concerns of hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers about the program’s current 10.25 percent interest rate, which goes into effect if advance payments are not recouped by CMS within one year of being disbursed. The bipartisan letter, which was cosigned by a group of 32 other senators, urges the agency to modify or waive the interest rate altogether.

GOP Doctors Caucus Seeks Additional Provider Relief

On behalf of the GOP Doctors Caucus, co-chair Rep. Phil Roe, MD sent a letter to HHS Secretary Azar and CMS Administrator Verma seeking relief for medical providers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the caucus requests that the administration work with Congress to extend the timeframe for repayment and the interest rate for the Advanced Payment Program (APP), suspend direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees collected from pharmacies by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), address any immediate workforce shortages with existing providers before expanding scope of practice for non-physician providers, and reimburse hospitals caring for recovered seniors who are awaiting transfer to a skilled nursing facility.

Lawmakers Oversee COVID Testing Accuracy, Availability

House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and House Appropriations Labor, HHS, and Education Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) how the agency is working to ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 tests. The letter criticizes the administration for its reliance on the original flawed test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reps. Doggett and DeLauro also request data from the FDA about the rate of false negative and false positive tests.

Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Senate Appropriations HHS Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are urging the administration to use authorities granted as a part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to make COVID-19 antibody tests free of charge. The lawmakers argue that widespread use of the tests amongst Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 will help to accurately determine the size of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., and provide confidence about when it is safe to restart the economy and reopen workplaces and schools. On April 11, CMS announced expanded coverage of some COVID-19 tests, including the antibody tests.

Democratic Members Raise Privacy Concerns Re: COVID Surveillance Network

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have sent a letter to White House senior adviser Jared Kushner expressing reservations about the administration’s consideration of creating a public health surveillance network in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawmakers are concerned that the use of patient data to prevent the spread of the virus could undermine the confidentiality of health information. They assert that any surveillance system should be accompanied by durable privacy measures that protect against discriminatory outcomes.

Hart Health Strategies COVID-19 Resources

Hart Health Strategies Inc. continues to update the following resources related to the coronavirus pandemic:

Wyden Releases Maternal Mortality Report

Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has released a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on maternal mortality in the United States. GAO’s analysis shows that the maternal mortality ratio in the U.S. increased by three percent from 2000-2015 while the global ratio declined. The report found that over 6,700 women died of causes related to or aggravated by their pregnancy between 2007 and 2016. This mortality rate was significantly higher for certain communities of color. The full text of the report, “Maternal Mortality: Trends in Pregnancy-Related Deaths and Federal Efforts to Reduce Them,” is available here.

Lawmakers Request Investigation into Nursing Homes Use of Psychotropic Drugs

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is requesting that the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launch an investigation into the use of psychotropic and antipsychotic drugs in nursing facilities. Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) raise concerns that there are insufficient safeguards to protect against the unnecessary or inappropriate use of these drugs in the nursing home population. The last major analysis of this issue was undertaken by the OIG in 2011.

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