POLICY BRIEFINGS


Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


THIS WEEK'S BRIEFING - JUNE 22, 2020


Lawmakers Push to Make Telehealth Changes Permanent


A bipartisan group of 30 senators have sent a letter calling on Senate leadership to enact legislation to permanently implement the changes previously authorized by Congress to increase access to telehealth services during the pandemic. The lawmakers argue that expanding access to telehealth services on a permanent basis would both “assure patients that their care will not be interrupted when the pandemic ends,” but also “provide certainty to health care providers that the costs to prepare for and use telehealth would be a sound long-term investment.” The specific permanent changes include permitting community health centers and rural health clinics to provide distant site telehealth services and for telehealth to be used for face-to-face visits to certify a patient’s eligibility to enter hospice care. The lawmakers also call for more data on the impact of telehealth on spending, health outcomes, and quality of care during the pandemic. The letter was led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and signed by the cosponsors of Schatz’s Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act, which was included in previous COVID-19 response legislation and expanded access to telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic on a temporary basis. The letter highlights data showing that the number of Medicare beneficiaries using telehealth services increased by 11,718 percent in just a month and a half during the pandemic.


Grassley Requests Recommendations on Health Inequities


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is requesting input from panel members on areas the Committee should focus on to reduce health disparities. Grassley states that some Finance members have publicly voiced displeasure that the Committee is not doing enough to address the issue of racial and ethnic health disparities, which have been highlighted by recent acts of police brutality and the COVID-19 pandemic. Grassley outlines the work the committee is currently engaged in to improve outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities, but requests that lawmakers provide additional viable suggestions to reduce health disparities as the panel continues its bipartisan efforts.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) sent a related request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) last week. Pallone wrote to Administrator Seema Verma to reiterate a previous request that the agency release Medicare COVID-19 outcomes data based on race, ethnicity, and gender. Pallone’s first request for the information was made nine weeks ago. In his letter, Pallone also asks for a briefing from CMS to better understand how the agency is utilizing such data to inform its response to COVID-19.


Dems Seek Details on FDA Vaccine Plans


Democratic leadership of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform have written to Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn to request a briefing on the agency’s plans for the development, review, and deployment of an eventual coronavirus vaccine. They argue that transparency in the FDA’s process is critical to support public trust in the vaccine and suggest that the agency declare that any vaccine candidate would have to be proved safe and effective in a complete Phase 3 clinical trial with at least 30,000 volunteers. They ask for confirmation that the FDA will participate in a briefing with the committee on July 2.


MACPAC/MedPAC June Reports to Congress


The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) has released its June 2020 Report to Congress on Medicaid and CHIP. The Commission’s latest report addresses how to improve integration of care for dually eligible beneficiaries, increasing enrollment in Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs), Medicaid’s role in maternal health, and ensuring that Medicaid remains the payer of last resort when beneficiaries have other sources of coverage. The report includes five recommendations for congressional and administrative action. In the letter transmitting the report to Congress, MACPAC Chair Melanie Bella states that the Commission’s work in the months ahead will focus on Medicaid’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) also released its latest report to Congress last week. This year’s report includes seven chapters:

  • Realizing the promise of value-based payment in Medicare: An agenda for change
  • Challenges in maintaining and increasing savings from accountable care organizations (ACOs)
  • Replacing the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program
  • Mandated report: Impact of changes in the 21st Century Cures Act to risk adjustment for Medicare Advantage enrollees
  • Realigning incentives in Medicare Part D
  • Separately payable drugs in the hospital outpatient prospective payment system (OPPS)
  • Improving Medicare’s end-stage renal disease (ESRD) prospective payment system (PPS)

Amongst other recommendations, the Commission recommends replacing the Medicare Advantage quality bonus program with a value incentive program that could save approximately $94 billion over 10 years and reduce premiums for all Medicare beneficiaries.



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