Regulatory updates from the last week include an extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency, an extended deadline for the Medicaid and Chip Provider Relief Fund, and a new testing forum from HHS.
On July 23, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) extended the public health emergency (PHE) declared for the COVID-19 pandemic, which was set to expire on July 25th. The American Osteopathic Association advocated for the PHE extension, to ensure the Medicare telehealth waivers and flexibilities will continue for the duration of the pandemic. The declaration is expected to last for another 90 days, as the law stipulates.
The deadline for eligible providers that participate in state Medicaid and CHIP programs to submit information and apply for funding from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund has been extended from July 20 until August 3, 2020. HHS is distributing approximately $15 billion to eligible physicians who have not previously received a payment from the Provider Relief Fund. The payment amount will be at least 2 percent of reported gross revenue from patient care, and the final amount will be determined based on submitted data, including the number of Medicaid patients served. HHS has created a fact sheet explaining the application process and answering frequently asked questions.
HHS announced a new program to capture feedback between federal officials and the private sector. The National Testing Implementation Forum will bring together representatives from key stakeholder groups to share information and provide input to federal leaders about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, testing and diagnostics. The Forum will aim to significantly increase public health laboratory capacity, implement a national surveillance strategy using Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) and non-CLIA assets, and seek new techniques and technologies, such as sample pooling and identify any barriers to a streamlined national laboratory testing reporting system and defined reporting standards. The Forum will also work to improve technical assistance across the nation to target testing among the vulnerable and underserved and create a sustainable diagnostics ecosystem that is sustainable and fully capable for future public health challenges.
Starting next week, HHS will begin distributing $10 billion in a second round of funding to hospitals in areas highly affected by COVID-19 (“hotspots”). HHS previously distributed $12 billion for hotspot hospitals on May 1. For the second round, hospitals must have over 161 COVID-19 admissions between Jan. 1 and June 10, 2020, have at least one COVID-19 admission per day, or have experienced a disproportionate intensity of COVID-19 admissions (exceeding the average ratio of COVID-19 admissions/bed). Eligible hospitals can expect to receive $50,000 per eligible admission. HHS will continue to publicly report the hospitals that receive funding through the high-impact distributions.
HHS posted a notice of reporting requirements for providers who received more than $10,000 from the PRF. The notice has few details but does indicate that detailed reporting instructions will be released by Aug. 17, 2020, and that the reporting system will go live on October 1, 2020. In addition, 2020 expenditures must be reported within 45 days of the end of calendar year, and 2021 expenditures must be reported in a second and final report no later than July 31, 2021. However, throughout the PRF process, HHS has revised timelines and providers should continue to monitor the website for updated information.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced several new initiatives designed to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19. In addition, HHS will devote $5 billion of the Provider Relief Fund to Medicare-certified long term care facilities and state veterans’ homes (“nursing homes”), to build nursing home skills and enhance nursing homes’ response to COVID-19, including enhanced infection control. Facilities must participate in a Nursing Home COVID-19 Training to receive the funding. In addition, the agency will begin requiring all nursing homes in states with a 5 percent positivity rate or greater to test all staff weekly.