Thursday Miscellany

Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have expressed their support for the $980 million bi-partisan COVID-19 relief bill.

[Further] Senators said Thursday that they were trying to work out the details of a rough agreement the bipartisan group of nine senators and members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 50 centrist House lawmakers, had unveiled earlier this week.  * * * The bipartisan proposal, which would run through March 2021, includes $160 billion in state and local funding and would provide a short-term suspension of liability lawsuits related to Covid-19 at the state or federal level, giving states time to put in place their own protections. Lawmakers said the details of both contentious issues were being worked out before Monday [December 7], when the group hopes to release legislative text. * * * The bipartisan proposal also includes $288 billion for small-business relief, including for the Paycheck Protection Program, $16 billion for the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, $82 billion for schools, $25 billion for rental assistance and $180 billion for additional unemployment insurance, including $300 a week through March, aides said. In addition, the plan would give $17 billion to airlines.

From the COVID-19 vaccine front

The co-leader of the US government’s Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine initiative on Wednesday outlined the most ambitious timeline yet for vaccinating the most vulnerable Americans against COVID-19.

Moncef Slaoui, Warp Speed’s chief advisor, predicted that 100 million Americans would be immunized by the end of February.

Twenty million Americans should be vaccinated in December, followed by 30 million more in January and 50 million more in February, the former pharmaceutical executive said in a press briefing.

By then, “we will have potentially immunized 100 million people, which is really more or less the size of the significant at-risk population: the elderly, the healthcare workers, the first-line workers, people with comorbidities,” Slaoui said.

As of last year 255 million Americans were over age 18 which is the minimum age to receive the Pfizer – BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. (The total U.S. population is around 330 million currently.) Moderna has started a study of its COVID-19 vaccine on younger people aged 12 to 17.

  • CNN reports on the government’s plan to track COVID-19 immunizations and ensure that people who receive the first dose also get the second.
  • The New York Times offers an online tool to help you figure where is your place in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine once they receive FDA emergency use authorization. Here’s the answer that the FEHBlog received:

Based on your risk profile, we believe you’re in line behind 118.5 million people across the United States. When it comes to Maryland, we think you’re behind 2.2 million others who are at higher risk in your state. And in Montgomery County, you’re behind 304,800 others.

In other COVID-19 news, Beckers Payer Issues reports that large health plans generally are tying their COVID-19 benefit flexibilities to the end date of the COVID-19 public health emergency which conforms to the FFCRA and CARES Act requirement. The current end date is January 21, but it is a safe bet that the Department of Health and Human Services extends that end date for another 90 days early next month.

There has been a lot of action at the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”):

  • Today, HHS “issued a fourth amendment to the Declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) to increase access to critical countermeasures against COVID-19.” Principally, the amendment permits telehealth providers of care with prescription authority who are licensed in State A to prescribe COVID-19 testing and other COVID-19 counter measures for patients contacting them from State B. HHS initiated this change because “While many states have decided to permit healthcare personnel in other states to provide telehealth services to patients within their borders, not all states have done so.”
  • Also HHS “released an important HHS Action Plan and announced a partnership to reduce maternal deaths and disparities that put women at risk prior to, during, and following pregnancy. The U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams issued a complementary Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health outlining the critical roles everyone can play to improve maternal health.” Bravo.
  • Health Payer Intelligence explains that

CMS has introduced a new Medicare value-based contracting model that encourages greater care coordination and requires participants to take full risk for Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries based on region.

The Geographic Direct Contracting Model uses outcomes-based payment models to address care quality, healthcare spending, care coordination, clinical management, and program integrity in targeted regions.

“Within each region, organizations with experience in risk-sharing arrangements and population health will partner with health care providers and community organizations to better coordinate care,” the press release explained.

Beneficiaries will not have to switch providers or payers. They will continue to have their Original Medicare benefits as well as their enhanced benefits and they may receive reduced cost-sharing for Medicare Part A and Part B, including Part B premium subsidies.

Finally Healthcare Dive explains that in HHS’s CY 2021 Medicare Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System and Ambulatory Surgical Center Payment System Final Rule 

CMS is eliminating the inpatient-only list that requires roughly 1,700 medical procedures to occur inside a hospital for Medicare members. The inpatient-only list will be completely phased out by 2024, according to the outpatient payment final rule released Wednesday. The hospital lobby balked at the change, contending the list is there to protect patients as the list of procedures can be complex and need hospital resources.

Ultimately, the list expands the options of where certain surgeries can be performed and may ultimately reduce out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare members as surgeries performed in an outpatient setting, such as an ambulatory surgery center, can be less costly, CMS said.

Also, the agency is moving forward with reimbursement cuts for 340B-acquired drugs, a hit to some hospitals. Meanwhile, the rule also loosens restrictions on some physician-owned facilities, also drawing ire from the hospital lobby.

Isn’t wild that in 2020 Medicare still requires 1700 surgeries to be performed on an inpatient basis. The FEHBlog hopes that the Biden Administration’s HHS continues the Trump Administration’s practice of re-evaluating and when appropriate long term practices that have outlived their value.