Tag: CMS Administrator Seema Verma

Trump Administration Makes Sweeping Regulatory Changes To Help U.S. Healthcare System Address COVID-19 Patient Surge

“Every day, heroic nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers are dedicating long hours to their patients. This means sacrificing time with their families and risking their very lives to care for coronavirus patients,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Front line healthcare providers need to be able to focus on patient care in the most flexible and innovative ways possible. This unprecedented temporary relaxation in regulation will help the healthcare system deal with patient surges by giving it tools and support to create non-traditional care sites and staff them quickly.”

Other temporary CMS waivers and rule changes dramatically lessen administrative burdens, knowing that front line providers will be operating with high volumes and under extraordinary system stresses.

CMS recently approved hundreds of waiver requests from healthcare providers, state governments, and state hospital associations in the following states: Ohio; Tennessee; Virginia; Missouri; Michigan; New Hampshire; Oregon; California; Washington; Illinois; Iowa; South Dakota; Texas; New Jersey; and North Carolina. With today’s announcement of blanket waivers, other states and providers do not need to apply for these waivers and can begin using the flexibilities immediately.

Administrator Verma added that she applauds the Mar. 23, 2020, pledge by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to match CMS’s waivers for Medicare beneficiaries in areas where in-patient capacity is under strain. “It’s a terrific example of public-private partnership and will expand the impact of Medicare’s changes,” Verma said.

CMS’s temporary actions announced today empower local hospitals and healthcare systems to:

  • Increase Hospital Capacity – CMS Hospitals Without Walls:

CMS will allow communities to take advantage of local ambulatory surgery centers that have canceled elective surgeries, per federal recommendations. Surgery centers can contract with local healthcare systems to provide hospital services, or they can enroll and bill as hospitals during the emergency declaration as long as they are not inconsistent with their State’s Emergency Preparedness or Pandemic Plan. The new flexibilities will also leverage these types of sites to decant services typically provided by hospitals such as cancer procedures, trauma surgeries and other essential surgeries.

CMS will now temporarily permit non-hospital buildings and spaces to be used for patient care and quarantine sites, provided that the location is approved by the State and ensures the safety and comfort of patients and staff. This will expand the capacity of communities to develop a system of care that safely treats patients without COVID-19, and isolate and treat patients with COVID-19.

CMS will also allow hospitals, laboratories, and other entities to perform tests for COVID-19 on people at home and in other community-based settings outside of the hospital. This will both increase access to testing and reduce risks of exposure. The new guidance allows healthcare systems, hospitals, and communities to set up testing sites exclusively for the purpose of identifying COVID-19-positive patients in a safe environment.

In addition, CMS will allow hospital emergency departments to test and screen patients for COVID-19 at drive-through and off-campus test sites.

During the public health emergency, ambulances can transport patients to a wider range of locations when other transportation is not medically appropriate. These destinations include community mental health centers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), physician’s offices, urgent care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, and any locations furnishing dialysis services when an ESRD facility is not available.

Physician-owned hospitals can temporarily increase the number of their licensed beds, operating rooms, and procedure rooms. For example, a physician-owned hospital may temporarily convert observation beds to inpatient beds to accommodate patient surge during the public health emergency.

In addition, hospitals can bill for services provided outside their four walls. Emergency departments of hospitals can use telehealth services to quickly assess patients to determine the most appropriate site of care, freeing emergency space for those that need it most. New rules ensure that patients can be screened at alternate treatment and testing sites which are not subject to the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA) as long as the national emergency remains in force. This will allow hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to screen patients at a location offsite from the hospital’s campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Rapidly Expand the Healthcare Workforce:

Local private practice clinicians and their trained staff may be available for temporary employment since nonessential medical and surgical services are postponed during the public health emergency. CMS’s temporary requirements allow hospitals and healthcare systems to increase their workforce capacity by removing barriers for physicians, nurses, and other clinicians to be readily hired from the local community as well as those licensed from other states without violating Medicare rules.

These healthcare workers can then perform the functions they are qualified and licensed for, while awaiting completion of federal paperwork requirements.

CMS is issuing waivers so that hospitals can use other practitioners, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to the fullest extent possible, in accordance with a state’s emergency preparedness or pandemic plan. These clinicians can perform services such as order tests and medications that may have previously required a physician’s order where this is permitted under state law.

CMS is waiving the requirements that a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) is under the supervision of a physician. This will allow CRNAs to function to the fullest extent allowed by the state, and free up physicians from the supervisory requirement and expand the capacity of both CRNAs and physicians.

CMS also is issuing a blanket waiver to allow hospitals to provide benefits and support to their medical staffs, such as multiple daily meals, laundry service for personal clothing, or child care services while the physicians and other staff are at the hospital and engaging in activities that benefit the hospital and its patients.

CMS will also allow healthcare providers (clinicians, hospitals and other institutional providers, and suppliers) to enroll in Medicare temporarily to provide care during the public health emergency.

  • Put Patients over Paperwork:

CMS is temporarily eliminating paperwork requirements and allowing clinicians to spend more time with patients. Medicare will now cover respiratory-related devices and equipment for any medical reason determined by clinicians so that patients can get the care they need; previously Medicare only covered them under certain circumstances.

During the public health emergency, hospitals will not be required to have written policies on processes and visitation of patients who are in COVID-19 isolation. Hospitals will also have more time to provide patients a copy of their medical record.

CMS is providing temporary relief from many audit and reporting requirements so that providers, healthcare facilities, Medicare Advantage health plans, Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, and states can focus on providing needed care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries affected by COVID-19.

This is being done by extending reporting deadlines and suspending documentation requests which would take time away from patient care.

  • Further Promote Telehealth in Medicare:

Building on prior action to expand reimbursement for telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries, CMS will now allow for more than 80 additional services to be furnished via telehealth. During the public health emergencies, individuals can use interactive apps with audio and video capabilities to visit with their clinician for an even broader range of services. Providers also can evaluate beneficiaries who have audio phones only.

These temporary changes will ensure that patients have access to physicians and other providers while remaining safely at home.

Providers can bill for telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits. Telehealth visits include emergency department visits, initial nursing facility and discharge visits, home visits, and therapy services, which must be provided by a clinician that is allowed to provide telehealth. New as well as established patients now may stay at home and have a telehealth visit with their provider.

CMS is allowing telehealth to fulfill many face-to-face visit requirements for clinicians to see their patients in inpatient rehabilitation facilities, hospice and home health.

CMS is making it clear that clinicians can provide remote patient monitoring services to patients with acute and chronic conditions, and can be provided for patients with only one disease. For example, remote patient monitoring can be used to monitor a patient’s oxygen saturation levels using pulse oximetry.

In addition, CMS is allowing physicians to supervise their clinical staff using virtual technologies when appropriate, instead of requiring in-person presence.

For additional background information on the waivers and rule changes, go to: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/additional-backgroundsweeping-regulatory-changes-help-us-healthcare-system-address-covid-19-patient

For more information on the COVID-19 waivers and guidance, and the Interim Final Rule, please go to the CMS COVID-19 flexibilities webpage: https://www.cms.gov/about-cms/emergency-preparedness-response-operations/current-emergencies/coronavirus-waivers.

These actions, and earlier CMS actions in response to COVID-19, are part of the ongoing White House Coronavirus Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.coronavirus.gov.  For a complete and updated list of CMS actions, and other information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

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HHS Issues Strategy To Improve Care For Patients By Reducing Clinician Burdens

Image result for U.S. Department of Health and Human Services logoAs part of the ongoing efforts to strengthen the relationship between patients and their doctors, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued the Strategy on Reducing Regulatory and Administrative Burden Relating to the Use of Health IT and EHRs.

This report describes examples of electronic health record (EHR) related burden, as well as strategies and recommendations that HHS and other stakeholders can use to help clinicians focus their attention on patients rather than paperwork, when they use health information technology (health IT).

“Usable, interoperable health IT is essential to a healthcare system that puts the patient at the center, like President Trump has promised,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We received feedback from hundreds of organizations and healthcare providers on this new burden-reduction strategy, and the input made clear that there are plenty of steps still necessary to make IT more usable for providers and maximize the promise of electronic health records.”

The development of the report, required under the 21st Century Cures Act, was led by the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The initial draft, issued in November 2018, represented HHS’s assessment and response to feedback heard from a wide variety of health IT stakeholders, from practicing clinicians to health IT developers.

The report released today reflects additional input from the more than 200 comments submitted in response to the draft strategy and recommendations. The report outlines three primary goals and offers recommendations to:

  1. Reduce the effort and time required to record information in EHRs for health care providers when they are seeing patients;
  2. Reduce the effort and time required to meet regulatory reporting requirements for clinicians, hospitals, and health care organizations; and
  3. Improve the functionality and intuitiveness (ease of use) of EHRs.

“The strategy we are releasing today takes a hard look at ways that the federal government and stakeholders can work together to reduce the administrative and technological burdens experienced by healthcare providers,” said Don Rucker, M.D., national coordinator for health IT. “Patients will benefit from these efforts because their physicians will spend more time focused on them instead of their keyboards.”

Specifically, ONC and CMS looked at four key areas and offered strategies to address each area:

Seema-Verma
Seema Verma

“The taxpayers made a massive investment in EHRs with the expectation that it would solve the many issues that plagued paper-bound health records,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Unfortunately – as this report shows – in all too many cases, the cure has been worse than the disease. Twenty years into the 21st century, it’s unacceptable that the application of Health IT still struggles to provide ready access to medical records – access that might mean the difference between life and death. The report’s recommendations provide valuable guidance on how to minimize EHR burden as we seek to fulfill the promise of an interoperable health system.”

The report explains that different types of administrative burden can affect different healthcare providers, but is focused on those healthcare providers that are directly involved in delivery of patient care. Those may include physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff; practice managers and other administrators immediately engaged in the management of care delivery; and care delivery institutions, such as hospitals.

For a copy of the report, visit: https://www.healthit.gov/topic/usability-and-provider-burden/strategy-reducing-burden-relating-use-health-it-and-ehrs

A blog post discussing the report can be found on the ONC Buzz Blog.

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HHS Aims To Deliver Value-Based Transformation In Primary Care

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma announce the CMS Primary Cares Initiative, a new set of payment models that will transform primary care to deliver better value for patients throughout the healthcare system. The CMS Primary Cares Initiative will aim to reduce administrative burdens and empower primary care providers to spend more time caring for patients while reducing overall healthcare costs, HHS said in a statement.

Image result for HHS Secretary Alex Azar
Alex Azar

“For years, policymakers have talked about building an American healthcare system that focuses on primary care, pays for value, and places the patient at the center. These new models represent the biggest step ever taken toward that vision,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “Building on the experience of previous models and ideas of past administrations, these models will test out paying for health and outcomes rather than procedures on a much larger scale than ever before. These models can serve as an inflection point for value-based transformation of our healthcare system, and American patients and providers will be the first ones to benefit.”

Empirical evidence shows that strengthening primary care is associated with higher quality, better outcomes, and lower costs within and across major population subgroups. Despite this evidence, primary care spending accounts for a small portion of total cost of care, and is even lower for patients with complex, chronic conditions, HHS said.

CMS’s experience with innovative models, programs and demonstrations to date have shown that when incentives for primary care clinicians are aligned to reward the provision of high-value care, the quality and cost effectiveness of patient care improves, the organization cited.

CMS Administrator - Seema Verma
Seema Verma

“As we seek to unleash innovation in our health care system, we recognize that the road to value must have as many lanes as possible,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Our Primary Cares Initiative is designed to give clinicians different options that advance our goal to deliver better care at a lower cost while allowing clinicians to focus on what they do best: treating patients.”

Administered through the CMS Innovation Center, the CMS Primary Cares Initiative will provide primary care practices and other providers with five new payment model options under two paths:

Primary Care First and Direct Contracting.

The five payment model options are:

  1. Primary Care First (PCF)
  2. Primary Care First – High Need Populations
  3. Direct Contracting – Global
  4. Direct Contracting – Professional
  5. Direct Contracting – Geographic

The Primary Care First (PCF) payment model options will test whether financial risk and performance based payments that reward primary care practitioners and other clinicians for easily understood, actionable outcomes will reduce total Medicare expenditures, preserve or enhance quality of care, and improve patient health outcomes. PCF will provide payment to practices through a simplified total monthly payment that allows clinicians to focus on caring for patients rather than their revenue cycle. PCF also includes a payment model option that provides higher payments to practices that specialize in care for high need patients, including those with complex, chronic needs and seriously ill populations (SIP).

Both models under PCF incentivize providers to reduce hospital utilization and total cost of care by potentially significantly rewarding them through performance-based payment adjustments based on their performance. These models seek to improve quality of care, specifically patients’ experiences of care and key outcome-based clinical quality measures, which may include controlling high blood pressure, managing diabetes mellitus and screening for colorectal cancer. PCF will be tested for five years and is scheduled to begin in January 2020. A second application round is also planned for participants starting in January 2021.

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AMA: Extension Needed On Comment Period To Proposed Interoperability/Info Blocking Rules

Image result for american medical association logoThe American Medical Association delivered the following comment letter to ONC National Coordinator Donald Rucker, MD and CMS Administrator Seema Verma urging a 30-day extension to the comment periods for the two proposed federal rules regarding interoperability and information blocking. The letter is posted in its entirety below:

Dear Dr. Rucker and Administrator Verma:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I want to express my appreciation for the detail and thought put into your proposed rules, 21st Century Cures Act: Interoperability, Information Blocking, and the ONC Health IT Certification Program and Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Interoperability and Patient Access for Medicare Advantage Organization and Medicaid Managed Care Plans, State Medicaid Agencies, CHIP Agencies and CHIP Managed Care Entities, Issuers of Qualified Health Plans in the Federally-facilitated Exchanges and Health Care Providers.

The 21st Century Cures Act includes many provisions that, through prudent regulation, will advance patients’ and physicians’ access to medical information. I recognize and appreciate the desire for swift rulemaking. However, such rapid change in health care policy, technology, and business practices may lead to unintended consequences for patient privacy and physician burden. Moreover, the proposed rules are interwoven, complex in nature, and include multiple detailed requests for information. To ensure that the rules are as successful as possible in meeting your goals, it is vital that stakeholders be given adequate time to provide comprehensive, thoughtful, and detailed comments. Expediency should not take precedence over deliberation as we confront a true paradigm shift in health care. I therefore urge that the comment periods for both rules be extended by at least 30 days. I appreciate your consideration and ongoing collaboration.

Thank you for considering our request. If you have any questions or care to discuss further, please feel free to reach out to Margaret Garikes, vice president of federal affairs, at 202-789-7409 or margaret.garikes@ama-assn.org.

Sincerely,

James Madara, MD

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma at HIMSS19: “The Data Belongs To The Patient”

Seema Verma during her HIMSS keynote

On Feb. 12, 2019, CMS Administrator Seema Verma held a session with some members of the healthcare media (this reporter attended the session) at HIMSS19 in Orlando in which she previewed her keynote remarks at the conference. During the briefing, and later during the actual keynote, Verma provided insight into the recently released Interoperability Proposed Rule as well as spoke directly about the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)’ efforts for empowering American patients.

During each session, Administrator Verma highlighted specific actions her agency is taking to ensure Americans have access to their medical records in a digital format. She also profiled some of the steps for setting the stage to increase seamless flow of health information, reducing burdens on patients and providers, and fostering innovation in healthcare through the unleashing of data for researcher and care innovation.

The Administrator took a strong tone to support patient access to their health information and ownership of patient data. “One thing that I want to make very clear for the entire healthcare system is that the data belongs to the patient. It’s their data. It doesn’t belong to the provider. It doesn’t belong to the EHR company. It belongs the patient.”

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