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Each week, C-TAC compiles the latest legislative and regulatory updates affecting the serious illness care field, combined with insider analysis from our policy experts. Here’s what you need to know for the week ahead:
- New Bill Seeks to Extend Medicare Sequester Moratorium
- MedPAC Congressional Recommendations Include Limited Expansion and More Study of Telehealth Coverage, Payment Updates to Providers
- FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
- Biden Administration to Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Program to 950 Community Health Centers
New Bill Seeks to Extend Medicare Sequester Moratorium
A new bill is seeking to prevent across-the-board spending cuts triggered by the latest COVID-19 relief package, including the 2 percent Medicare sequester reduction, known as sequestration. If passed, it would extend the temporary Medicare sequester moratorium through the end of 2021 as well as prevent other “budgetary effects” meant to prevent the package from increasing the federal budget deficit.
Signed into law last week, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act included several “pay-as-you-go,” or PAYGO, spending cuts per a 2010 federal rule requiring new legislation to not increase the federal budget deficit or reduce the surplus. Chief among the programs facing these cuts in the latest COVID-19 relief package was Medicare, which is slated to take a $36 billion hit by fiscal year 2022 to offset federal spending increases elsewhere. For more information, read this coverage from RevCycleIntelligence.
MedPAC Congressional Recommendations Include Limited Expansion and More Study of Telehealth Coverage, Payment Updates to Providers
The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is advising lawmakers to extend some emergency rules for telehealth access and coverage up to a few years after the COVID-19 pandemic ends and to continue studying how these tools affect care delivery. The commission released a report to Congress on March 15 which underscores the degree to which healthcare delivery has been changed by the pandemic. In the report, MedPAC recommends continuing Medicare coverage for telehealth services regardless of where the beneficiary is located as well as covering audio-only services for a year or two to gather more accurate and representative data.
MedPAC also was fairly conservative in its recommendations for payment updates to various provider types, despite calls for large increases as a result of the pandemic. The report recommends Medicare payments to acute care hospitals and long-term care hospitals should be increased by 2% for inpatient and outpatient services, and that payment rates to physicians, ambulatory surgical centers, outpatient dialysis facilities, skilled nursing facilities and hospice services remain unchanged from current law. Also recommended is a 5% cut in payments to home healthcare agencies and inpatient rehabilitation facilities, and that the aggregate hospice cap, which governs how much payment a hospice can receive from Medicare in a given year, be wage-adjusted and lowered by 20%.
FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. This new benefit aims to connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, and virtual classrooms.
The Emergency Broadband Benefit will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute $10-$50 toward the purchase price. The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
The program has been authorized by the FCC, but the start date has not yet been established. For more information about the program, including eligibility criteria, visit the program webpage here.
Biden Administration to Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Program to 950 Community Health Centers
On March 11, HHS announced that an additional 700 health centers, supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), will be invited to join the Health Center COVID-19 Vaccine Program. HRSA-funded health centers are community-based and patient-directed organizations that deliver high-quality, affordable care. The centers invited to participate in the next phase of this program include those serving high proportions of low-income and minority patients.
C-TAC applauds this effort to send COVID-19 vaccines directly to centers serving communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. For more information, read the full announcement on the HHS website. To view a list of the health centers participating in or invited to join the program, click here.