HHS Announces Nearly $1 Billion for Rural COVID-19 Response
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), announced rural clinics and hospitals will receive nearly $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act to strengthen COVID-19 response efforts and increase vaccinations, expand testing, and provide other COVID-19 prevention services in rural communities. In addition, approximately $250 million will be awarded to develop and support a community-based workforce to serve as trusted voices sharing information about vaccines, work to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence, and address any barriers to vaccination for individuals living in vulnerable and medically underserved communities.
CMS Issues Proposed Rule to Assist the Medical Workforce in Underserved Areas
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule for inpatient and long-term care hospitals to close health care equity gaps and provide greater accessibility to care. Major provisions of the rule would fund medical residency positions in hospitals in rural and underserved communities to address workforce shortages and require hospitals to report COVID-19 vaccination rates among their workers to contain the spread of the virus. CMS is proposing to distribute 1,000 additional physician residency slots to qualifying hospitals, phasing in 200 slots per year over five years. The rule also proposes to update Medicare fee-for-service payment rates and policies for acute care inpatient hospitals and long-term care hospitals for fiscal year 2022, increasing by an approximate $2.5 billion. A fact sheet describing all the proposed changes is available here.
HHS Announces COVID-19 Vaccine Coverage Program
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new program covering costs of administering COVID-19 vaccines to patients enrolled in health plans that either do not cover vaccination fees or cover them with patient cost-sharing. The new Coverage Assistance Fund addresses an outstanding compensation need for providers vaccinating underinsured patients. The program, funded through the Provider Relief Fund Program, will be compensating providers for eligible claims, at national Medicare rates, which increased in March to reflect newer information on the true costs associated with administering the vaccines.
HHS Awards $32 Million to Expand Training and Support for Health Centers
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded over $32 million to 122 organizations that provide training and technical assistance support to Health Center Program-supported health centers nationwide. Funds will provide health centers with critical COVID-19 related training, technical assistance, and health information technology support.
CMS Releases Update to Vaccine Toolkit
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released an update to the Coverage and Reimbursement of COVID-19 Vaccines, Vaccine Administration, and Cost Sharing under Medicaid, CHIP, and BHP Vaccine Toolkit. The revised toolkit reflects updates for the expansion of the mandatory benefit for vaccine and vaccine administration coverage to nearly all Medicaid beneficiaries as required by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), the enhanced 100 percent federal match for COVID-19 vaccines and their administration as provided for in ARP, and the authorization of the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine, among other updates.
CMS Finalizes Second Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2022
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) final rule lowers the maximum out-of-pocket costs for those relying on the federal health insurance marketplace and expands special enrollment periods. The rule finalizes a maximum annual limitation on cost-sharing that is $400 below what CMS proposed in November 2020. The annual payment notices make regulatory changes in the individual and small-group health insurance markets, and outline parameters issuers need to design plans and set rates for the upcoming plan year. CMS anticipates additional rulemaking later this year. A fact sheet can be found here.
GAO Report on Behavioral Health Access and Changes During COVID-19
This report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that there have been longstanding concerns about the availability of behavioral health treatment, particularly for low-income individuals. According to a review of federal data, one potential barrier to accessing treatment has been shortages of qualified behavioral health professionals, particularly in rural areas. GAO was asked to examine several issues about the demand for behavioral health services, as well as coverage and payment for these services. GAO examined what is known about the need for and availability of behavioral health services, and how these have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what issues selected stakeholders identified regarding the payment of claims for behavioral health services.