Appeals court upholds nearly 30% payment cut to 340B hospitals

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/appeals-court-upholds-nearly-30-payment-cut-to-340b-hospitals?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkRReFlqRmpaamRtWVdabSIsInQiOiJFTEp3SjQ3NG01NXcwRTg3Z0hCZkdTRlwvOURSeEVlblwvRlFUWlZcL09ONjZGNVEybzl3ekl3VFd2ZEgxSjY2NGQ0TkFIRFdtQ0ZDWUx0ak96NU15d09qMWcrdm9BMFUxOSszcVI0T21rak5raEN0aE5Kb0VUUGFcL254QnBjMjdCbzkifQ%3D%3D&mrkid=959610

In court filing, AHA says HHS should make 340B hospitals 'whole ...

A federal appeals court has ruled the Trump administration can install nearly 30% cuts to the 340B drug discount program.

The ruling Friday is the latest legal setback for hospitals that have been vociferously fighting cuts the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced back in 2017.

340B requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to deliver discounts to safety net hospitals in exchange for participation in Medicaid. A hospital will pay typically between 20% and 50% below the average sales price for the covered drugs.

HHS sought to address a payment gap between 340B and Medicare Part B, which reimburses providers for drugs administered in a physician’s office such as chemotherapy. There was a 25% and 55% gap between the price for a 340B drug and on Medicare Part B.

So HHS administered a 28.5% cut in the 2018 hospital payment rule. The agency also included the cuts in the 2019 payment rule.

Three hospital groups sued to stop the cut, arguing that HHS exceeded its federal authority to adjust the rates to the program.

A lower court agreed with the hospitals and called for the agency to come up with a remedy for the cuts that already went into effect.

But HHS argued that when it sets 340B payment amounts, it has the authority to adjust the amounts to ensure they don’t reimburse hospitals at higher levels than the actual costs to acquire the drugs.

If the hospital acquisition cost data are not available, HHS could determine the amount of payment equal to the average drug price. HHS argued that hospital cost acquisition data was not available and so HHS needed to determine the payment rates based on the average drug price.

The court agreed with the agency’s interpretation.

“At a minimum, the statute does not clearly preclude HHS from adjusting the [340B] rate in a focused manner to address problems with reimbursement rates applicable only to certain types of hospitals,” the ruling said.

The court added that the $1.6 billion gleaned from the cuts would go to all providers as additional reimbursements for other services.

340B groups were disappointed with the decision.

“These cuts of nearly 30% have caused real and lasting pain to safety-net hospitals and the patients they serve,” said Maureen Testoni, president and CEO of advocacy group 340B Health, which represents more than 1,400 hospitals that participate in the program. “Keeping these cuts in place will only deepen the damage of forced cutbacks in patient services and cancellations of planned care expansions.”

This is the latest legal defeat for the hospital industry. A few weeks ago, the same appeals court ruled that HHS had the legal authority to institute cuts to off-campus clinics to bring Medicare payments in line with physician offices, reversing a lower court’s ruling.

The groups behind the lawsuit — American Hospital Association, American Association of Medical Colleges and America’s Essential Hospitals — slammed the decision as hurtful to hospitals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But the groups didn’t say if it would appeal the decision.

“Hospitals that rely on the savings from the 340B drug pricing program are also on the front-lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and today’s decision will result in the continued loss of resources at the worst possible time,” the groups said in a statement Friday.

 

 

 

How Many People in the U.S. Are Hospitalized With COVID-19? Who Knows?

https://www.propublica.org/article/how-many-people-in-the-us-are-hospitalized-with-covid-19-who-knows?utm_source=sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature

 

The Trump administration told hospitals to stop reporting data to the CDC, and report it to HHS instead. Vice President Mike Pence said the information would continue to be released publicly. It hasn’t worked out as promised.

In mid-July, the Trump administration instructed hospitals to change the way they reported data on their coronavirus patients, promising the new approach would provide better, more up-to-the-minute information about the virus’s toll and allow resources and supplies to be quickly dispatched across the country.

Instead, the move has created widespread confusion, leaving some states in the dark about their hospitals’ remaining bed and intensive care capacity and, at least temporarily, removing this information from public view. As a result, it has been unclear how many people are in hospitals being treated for COVID-19 at a time when the number of infected patients nationally has been soaring.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been seen as a key metric of both the coronavirus’s toll and the health care system’s ability to deal with it.

Since early in the pandemic, hospitals had been reporting data on COVID-19 patients to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through its National Healthcare Safety Network, which traditionally tracks hospital-acquired infections.

In a memo dated July 10, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told hospitals to abruptly change course — to stop reporting their data to the CDC and instead to submit it to HHS through a new portal run by a company called TeleTracking. The change took effect within days. Vice President Mike Pence said the administration would continue releasing the data publicly, as the CDC had done.

Almost immediately, the CDC pulled its historical data offline, only to repost it under pressure a couple days later. Meanwhile the website for the administration’s new portal promised to update numbers on a daily basis, but, as of Friday morning, the site hadn’t been updated since July 23. (HHS is posting some data daily on a different federal website but not representative estimates for each state.)

“The most pernicious portion of it is that at the state level and at the regional level we lost our situational awareness,” said Dave Dillon, spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association. “At the end of this, we may have a fantastic data product out of HHS. I will not beat them up for trying to do something positive about the data, but the rollout of this has been absolutely a catastrophe.”

The Missouri Hospital Association had taken the daily data submitted by its hospitals to the CDC and created a state dashboard. The transition knocked that offline. The dashboard came back online this week, but Dillon said in a follow-up email, “the data is only as good as our ability to know that everyone is reporting the same data, in the correct way, for tracking and comparison purposes at the state level.”

Other states, including Idaho and South Carolina, also experienced temporary information blackouts. And The COVID Tracking Project, which has been following the pandemic’s toll across the country based on state data, noted issues with its figures. “These problems mean that our hospitalization data — a crucial metric of the COVID-19 pandemic — is, for now, unreliable, and likely an undercount. We do not think that either the state-level hospitalization data or the new federal data is reliable in isolation,” according to a blog post Tuesday on the group’s website.

Making matters more complicated, the administration has changed the information that it is requiring hospitals to report, adding many elements, such as the age range of admitted COVID-19 patients, and removing others. As of this week, for instance, HHS told hospitals to stop reporting the total number of deaths they’ve had since Jan. 1, the total number of COVID-19 deaths and the total number of COVID-19 admissions. (Hospitals still report daily figures, just not historical ones.)

“Massachusetts hospitals are continuing to navigate the dramatic increase of daily data requirements,” the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said in a newsletter on Monday. “MHA and other state health officials continue to raise concerns about the administrative burden and questionable usefulness of some of the data.”

“Hospitals across the country were given little time to adjust to the unnecessary and seismic changes put forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which fundamentally shift both the volume of data and the platforms through which data is submitted,” the association’s CEO, Steve Walsh, said in the newsletter.

A number of state websites also noted problems with hospital data. For days, the Texas Department of State Health Services included a note on its dashboard that it was “reporting incomplete hospitalization numbers … due to a transition in reporting to comply with new federal requirements.” That came just as the state was experiencing a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

California likewise noted problems.

A spokesperson for HHS acknowledged some bumps in the transition but said in an email: “We are pleased with the progress we have made during this transition and the actionable data it is providing. We have had some states and hospital associations report difficulty with the new collection system. When HHS identifies errors in the data submissions, we work directly with the state or hospital association to quickly resolve them.

“Our objective with this new approach is to collaborate with the states and the healthcare system. The goal of full transparency is to acknowledge when we find discrepancies in the data and correct them.”

Last week, HHS noted, 93% of its prioritized list of hospitals, excluding psychiatric, rehabilitation and religious nonmedical facilities, reported data at least once during the week. (The guidance to hospitals asks them to report every day.)

Asked about the lack of timely data on its public website, HHS said it will update the site to “make it clear that the estimates are only updated weekly.” HHS is now posting a date file each day on healthdata.gov with aggregate information on hospitalizations by state.

But unlike the prior releases from CDC, which provided estimates on hospital capacity based on the responses, this file only gives totals for the hospitals that reported data. It’s unclear which hospitals did not report, how large they are, or whether the reported data is representative.

It’s also unclear if it’s accurate. New York state, for instance, reported that fewer than 600 people were currently hospitalized with COVID-19, as of Friday. Federal data released the same day pegged the number of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations at around 1,800.

Louisiana says more than 1,500 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. The federal data puts the figure at fewer than 700.

Nationally, The COVID Tracking Project reports that more than 56,000 people were hospitalized around the country with the virus, as of Thursday.

The data released by HHS on Friday puts the figure at more than 70,000.

NPR reported this week that it had found irregularities in the process used by the Trump administration to award the contract to manage the hospital data. Among other things, HHS directly contacted TeleTracking about the contract and the agency used a process that is more often used for innovative scientific research, NPR reported.

An HHS spokesperson told NPR that the contract process it used is a “common mechanism … for areas of research interest,” and said that the system used by the CDC was “fraught with challenges.”

Ryan Panchadsaram, co-founder of the tracking website CovidExitStrategy.org, has been critical of the problems created by the hospital data changeover.

“Without real-time accurate monitoring, you can’t make quick and fast and accurate decisions in a crisis,” he said in an interview. “This is just so important. This indicator that’s gone shows how the health system in a state is doing.”

Dillon of the Missouri Hospital Association said the administration could have handled this differently. For big technology projects, he noted, there is often a well-publicized transition with information sessions, an educational program and, perhaps, running the old system and the new one in parallel.

This “was extremely abrupt,” he said. “That is not akin to anything you would expect from HHS about how you would implement a program.”

 

What ‘Racism Is a Public Health Issue’ Means

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-racism-public-health-issue-means-180975326/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200720-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43001584&spUserID=MTA5MDI1MDg0MjgxOQS2&spJobID=1801530184&spReportId=MTgwMTUzMDE4NAS2&fbclid=IwAR027OjpNcyZKM6Jd5aTYhgVaTzaO5lBqI4hCl1xsrKgQRL1bFYH538YIMA

What 'Racism Is a Public Health Issue' Means | Science ...

Epidemiologist Sharrelle Barber discusses the racial inequalities that exist for COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether cases are flaring up, slowing to a simmer, or back on the rise in areas across the United States, the data makes one fact apparent: The viral disease has disproportionally sickened and killed marginalized communities. A New York Times analysis of data from almost 1,000 counties that reported racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and fatalities revealed that, compared to white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics were three times more likely to experience and two times more likely to die from the illness. The Navajo Nation has, per capita, more confirmed cases and deaths than any of the 50 states.

Many factors, like access to healthcare and testing, household size, or essential worker status, likely contribute to the pandemic’s outsized toll on communities of color, but experts see a common root: the far-reaching effects of systemic racism.

That racism would have such an insidious effect on health isn’t a revelation to social epidemiologists. For decades, public health experts have discussed “weathering,” or the toll that repeated stressors experienced by people of color take on their health. Studies have demonstrated the link between such chronic stress and high blood pressure, the increased maternal mortality rate among black and indigenous women, and the elevated prevalence of diabetes in black, Latino and especially Native American populations. The pandemic has laid bare these inequities. At the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, “Racism is a public health issue” has become an internet refrain.

What exactly is the nebulous concept of “public health”? According to Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, the concept goes beyond the healthcare setting to take a more holistic look at health in different populations. “The charge of public health,” Barber told Smithsonian, “is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Smithsonian’s conversation with Barber, who studies how anti-black racism impacts health, about the many ways in which racism is a public health crisis:

When people say, “Racism is a public health problem,” what, in broad strokes, do they mean?

We’ve been observing racial inequities in health for decades in this country. W.E.B. DuBois, who was a sociologist, in The Philadelphia Negro showed mortality rates by race and where people lived in the city of Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century and found striking inequalities based on race. Fast forward to 1985, 35 years ago, and we have the [Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored] Heckler Report, one of the most comprehensive studies the country had undertaken, which again found striking inequalities across a wide range of health outcomes: infant mortality, cancer, stroke, et cetera.

There are various explanations for why these racial inequalities exist, and a lot of those have erroneously focused on either biology or genetics or behavioral aspects, but it’s important to examine the root causes of those inequities, which is structural racism…Racism is a public health problem, meaning racism is at the root of the inequities in health that we see, particularly for blacks in this country. So whether it’s housing, criminal justice, education, wealth, economic opportunities, healthcare, all of these interlocking systems of racism really are the main fundamental drivers of the racial inequities that we see among black Americans.

What are some specific factors or policies that have set the foundations for these health inequities?

Any conversation about racial inequities has to start with a conversation about slavery. We have to go back 400-plus years and really recognize the ways in which the enslavement of African people and people of African descent is the initial insult that set up the system of racism within this country. One of the major drivers that I actually study is the link between racial residential segregation, particularly in our large urban areas, and health inequities. Racial residential segregation is rooted in racist policies that date back at least to the 1930s. Practices such as redlining, which devalued black communities and led to the disinvestment in black communities, were then propped up by practices and policies at the local, the state and federal level, for example, things like restrictive covenants, where blacks were not allowed to move into certain communities; racial terror, where blacks were literally intimidated and run out of white communities when they tried to or attempted to move into better communities; and so many other policies. Even when you get the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the system finds a way to reinvent itself to still perpetuate and maintain racism.

Within segregated communities, you have so many adverse exposures, like poor quality housing or lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the list goes on. The chronic stressors within these communities are compounded in segregated communities, which then can lead to a wide array of health outcomes that are detrimental. So for example, in the city of Philadelphia, there’s been work that has shown upwards of a 15-year life expectancy difference between racially and economically segregated communities, black communities and wealthier white communities.

I imagine that sometimes you might get pushback from people who ask about whether you can separate the effects of socioeconomic status and race in these differences in health outcomes.

Yeah, that’s a false dichotomy in some ways. Racism does lead to, in many aspects, lower income, education, wealth. So they’re inextricably linked. However, racism as a system goes beyond socioeconomic status. If we look at what we see in terms of racial inequities in maternal mortality for black women, they are three times times more likely to die compared to white women. This disparity or this inequity is actually seen for black women who have a college degree or more. The disparity is wide, even when you control for socioeconomic status.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. How does racism shape the current health crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has literally just exposed what me and so many of my colleagues have known for decades, but it just puts it in such sharp focus. When you see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having, particularly for blacks, but also we’re seeing emerging data on Indigenous folks, it is just laying bare the ways racism is operating in this moment to produce those inequities.

Essential workers who had to continue to work during periods of stay at home orders across the country were disproportionately black and Latino. These are also often low wage workers. They weren’t given personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and really had to choose between being exposed and protecting themselves and having an income during this period. So that’s one way racism operates.

Then we know that those individuals aren’t isolated, that they return to homes that often are crowded because of the lack of affordable housing. Again, another system of racism that compounds the effect. Then you think about places like Flint, Michigan, or places that don’t have access to clean water. When we were telling people, “Wash your hands, social distance,” all of those things, there were people who literally could not adhere to those basic public health prevention measures and still can’t.

So many things were working in tandem together to then increase the risk, and what was frustrating for myself and colleagues was this kind of “blame the victim” narrative that emerged at the very onset, when we saw the racial disparities emerge and folks were saying, “Blacks aren’t washing their hands,” or, “Blacks need to eat better so they have better outcomes in terms of comorbidities and underlying chronic conditions,” when again, all of that’s structured by racism. To go back to your original question, that’s why racism is a public health issue and fundamental, because in the middle of a pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century, we’re seeing racism operate and racism produce the inequities in this pandemic, and those inequities are striking…

If we had a structural racism lens going into this pandemic, perhaps we would have done things differently. For example, get testing to communities that we know are going to be more susceptible to the virus. We would have done that early on as opposed to waiting, or we would have said, “Well, folks need to have personal protective equipment and paid sick leave and hazard pay.” We would have made that a priority…

The framing [of systemic racism as a public health concern] also dictates the solutions you come up with in order to actually prevent death and suffering. But if your orientation is, “Oh, it’s a personal responsibility” or “It’s behavioral,” then you create messages to black communities to say, “Wash your hands; wear a mask,” and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities. That’s why it’s a public health issue, because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.

Can you talk about how police brutality fits into the public health picture?

We have to deal with the literal deaths that happen at the hands of the police, because of a system that is rooted in slavery, but I also think we have to pay attention to the collective trauma that it causes to black communities. In the midst of a pandemic that’s already traumatic to watch the deaths due to COVID-19, [communities] then have to bear witness to literal lynchings and murders and that trauma. There’s really good scholarship on the kind of spillover effects of police brutality that impact the lives of whole communities because of the trauma of having to witness this kind of violence that then does not get met with any kind of justice.

It reinforces this idea that one, our lives are disposable, that black lives really don’t matter, because the whole system upholds this kind of violence and this kind of oppression, particularly for black folks. I’ve done studies on allostatic load [the wear and tear on the body as a result of chronic stress] and what it does, the dysregulation that happens. So just think about living in a society that’s a constant source of stress, chronic stress, and how that wreaks havoc on blacks and other marginalized racial groups as well.

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Proves Why Leaders Must Protect Americans From Junk Insurance Plans

Pandemic Proves Why Leaders Must Protect Americans From Junk Insurance Plans

Cartoon – Short Term Health Insurance | HENRY KOTULA

The coronavirus pandemic hit the nation hard and fast, infecting Americans from coast to coast, overwhelming health care systems and wreaking havoc on the economy. Those with pre-existing conditions – like diabetes and cardiovascular disease – are more vulnerable to the deadly virus. Americans have higher rates of these chronic conditions than other countries, in part because so many people live without health insurance or have shoddy coverage. This has become increasingly worse over the last four years as underlying health coverage has shrunken for the virus’s hardest hit victims: Black Americans, Native Americans and people of color.

Of the hundreds of thousands of Americans now recovering from COVID-19, many will undoubtedly have new chronic conditions, like lasting lung damage. This will be on top of the pre-existing conditions many who were predisposed to coronavirus already had. Record job losses in the wake of the pandemic have resulted in the loss of employer-sponsored coverage for more than 5 million Americans who are now on the hunt for new, affordable health insurance plans.

This presents the perfect storm for junk insurance plans – short-term limited duration insurance plans – that allow discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, expose consumers to financial risk and provide inadequate coverage. STLDIs are more dangerous now than ever in our new COVID-19 reality. Let’s be clear: These junk insurance plans – touted by the Trump administration and supported through taxpayer dollars – are not the answer. It is time for our leaders to put back the limitations on how long they can be used.

As their name suggests, short-term limited duration plans are meant to be used temporarily to bridge short-term gaps in coverage that arise from a job loss or other extenuating circumstance. However, new federal rules under the Trump administration have allowed the coverage period of STLDI plans to expand from six to 12 months. The administration has also promoted these plans to states as being eligible for federal subsidies, meaning our tax dollars help pay for them. President Donald Trump himself has touted these plans for being more affordable than Obamacare, but that is because they lack the same protections and do not meet minimum essential coverage standards under the law.

That is what makes these plans so dangerous. Though they tend to be less expensive than Affordable Care Act plans, they leave consumers vulnerable to unanticipated out-of-pocket costs by offering bare-bones coverage. Unlike ACA plans, STLDI plans can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, do not cover the cost of prescription drugs, have annual or lifetime maximums on covered services, and are not required to cover preventive services like cancer screenings or maternity care.

The lower price tag may lure consumers suffering financially during the pandemic, but they are high risk for those who do not fully understand what they are buying. Without carefully reading the fine print, many may not know before purchasing that STLDI plans are exempt from ACA rules as well as regulations for insurers recently passed in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. We have already seen the pandemic exacerbate existing health inequalities in America, and now these plans expose consumers, especially low-income individuals and those with chronic conditions, to more discrimination and financial ruin.

The Department of Health and Human Services has already acknowledged that these plans fall short. In fact, the government is having to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for people with STLDI plans, classifying them as “uninsured.” Yet, they will not cover the cost of COVID-19 treatment, meaning those with STLDI plans could face bills in the thousands of dollars, considering the average cost to treat a hospitalized coronavirus patient is $30,000.

Consumers for Quality Care, a coalition of advocates and former policy makers which provides a voice for patients in the health care debate, recently sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma asking that they protect consumers from these dangerous plans.

This pandemic has laid bare how dangerously unprepared America’s health care system is for a large-scale public health crisis. People needed high-quality insurance coverage before coronavirus hit, and they will need it long after the pandemic subsides. Let this be a lesson to the Trump administration – it is time to stop backing junk insurance plans and remove them from the open market. If our leaders fail to act, the lives and financial well-being of millions of Americans are at stake.

 

 

 

 

Appeals court rules HHS has authority to implement site-neutral payments, dealing blow to hospitals

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/appeals-court-rules-hhs-has-authority-to-implement-site-neutral-payments-dealing-blow-to?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpGa016azRZekJqTTJZeSIsInQiOiJ6ajZGSWlYUGh1TTZqTFBDMEgwaXk3ZFZZSCtBVkdUWHNhemZ0SDJZWnhJVHlHVUpjRTdFVUlpbVBSdng4dTFXUEhhOGV2S3lRcElVVWNuZWpqakdEZE1DRmhleHRzdlY4RDRxYkxtZUNYNVI3Rmg5Kys5SVd1aGdseUR6Y1hxSCJ9&mrkid=959610

Appeals court rules HHS has authority to implement site-neutral ...

A federal appeals court ruled the Department of Health and Human Services has the authority to cut Medicare payments to off-campus clinics to bring them in line with independent physician practices, reversing a lower court’s decision.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia delivered Friday strikes a major blow to the hospital industry which has been fighting HHS over the controversial rule.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) led a lawsuit against HHS arguing it did not have the statutory authority to cut payments to the off-campus, provider-based departments. HHS made the cuts in its annual hospital payments rule and the hospitals argued they were unlawful because the cuts were not budget-neutral, a requirement of the payment rule.

But the appeals court agreed with HHS that it had the authority to make the change in the payment rule because of how the law is structured.

 

 

 

 

White House tells hospitals to bypass CDC on COVID-19 data reporting

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/507321-white-house-tells-hospitals-to-bypass-cdc-on-covid-data-reporting?fbclid=IwAR2Q0n6LNYQa1p6rPQeRGUPi-54i8uTAyRxcmTcZXC6Q9mbVRZx3e1GH518

White House tells hospitals to bypass CDC on COVID-19 data ...

Hospitals will begin sending coronavirus-related information directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under new instructions from the Trump administration.

The move will take effect on Wednesday, according to a new guidance and FAQ document for hospitals and clinical labs quietly posted on the HHS website.

Previously, hospitals reported to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network, which the agency describes as the nation’s most widely used health care-associated infection tracking system.

The CDC tracked information including how many beds are available, the number of ventilators available and how many COVID-19 patients the hospitals have.

Beginning Wednesday, hospitals will report the same data but will bypass the CDC and send it to HHS directly. 

According to HHS, the goal is to streamline data collection, which will be used to inform decisions at the federal level such as allocation of supplies, treatments and other resources.

But the move comes amid concerns that the White House has been sidelining the CDC and after Trump administration officials attacked Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

 

 

Trump sidelines public health advisers in growing rift over coronavirus response

https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/trump-sidelines-public-health-advisers-in-growing-rift-over-coronavirus-response/2020/07/09/ad803218-c12a-11ea-9fdd-b7ac6b051dc8_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0MI5VGiJQmUsyEpzYDj09Q0VVxxYMlHwx-UjfHdmMu1PdGD6uIzv8R2fM&utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook

The Health 202: Health officials promise to ramp up pandemic ...

The June 28 email to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was ominous: A senior adviser to a top Health and Human Services Department official accused the CDC of “undermining the President” by putting out a report about the potential risks of the coronavirus to pregnant women.

The adviser, Paul Alexander, criticized the agency’s methods, and said its warning to pregnant women “reads in a way to frighten women . . . as if the President and his administration can’t fix this and it is getting worse.”

As the country enters a frightening phase of the pandemic with new daily cases surpassing 62,000 on Wednesday, the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, is coming under intense pressure from President Trump and his allies, who are downplaying the dangers in a bid to revive the economy ahead of the Nov. 3 election. In a White House guided by the president’s instincts, rather than by evidence-based policy, the CDC finds itself forced constantly to backtrack or sidelined from pivotal decisions.

The latest clash between the White House and its top public health advisers erupted Wednesday, when the president slammed the agency’s recommendation that schools planning to reopen should keep students’ desks six feet apart, among other steps to reduce infection risks. In a tweet, Trump — who has demanded schools at all levels hold in-person classes this fall — called the advice “very tough & expensive.”

“While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!” Trump tweeted Wednesday. Within hours, Vice President Pence had asserted the agency would release new guidance next week.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

Analysts say the deepening divide is undermining the authority of one of the world’s premier public health agencies, which previously led fights against malaria, smallpox and HIV/AIDS. Amid the worst public health crisis in a century, the CDC has in recent months altered or rescinded recommendations on topics including wearing masks and safely reopening restaurants and houses of worship as a result of conflicts with top administration officials.

“At a time when our country needs an orchestrated, all-hands-on deck response, there is simply no hand on the tiller,” said Beth Cameron, former senior director for global health security and biodefense on the White House National Security Council.

In the absence of strong federal leadership, state and local officials have been left to figure things out for themselves, leading to conflicting messaging and chaotic responses. Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the World Health Organization further undermined efforts to influence global strategies against the coronavirus, including how vaccines will be distributed.

The CDC, meanwhile, is increasingly isolated — a function both of its growing differences with the White House and of its own significant missteps earlier in the outbreak.

Those stumbles include the botched rollout of test kits likely contaminated at a CDC lab in late January, which led to critical delays in states’ ability to know where the virus was circulating. And the CDC’s initial decision to test only a narrow set of people gave the virus a head start spreading undetected across the country.

During a May lunch with Senate Republicans, Trump told the group the CDC “blew it” on the coronavirus test and that he’d installed a team of “geniuses” led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner to handle much of the response,” according to two people familiar with the lunch who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“There is a view the CDC is staffed with deep state Democrats that are trying to tweak the administration,” said one adviser who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private conversations.

White House officials, who see the president’s reelection prospects tied to economic recovery, also say they’ve been deeply frustrated by what they view as career staffers at the agency determined “to keep things closed,” according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal deliberations.

Trump believes the CDC is “ineffective” and a “waste of time,” but doesn’t blame CDC Director Robert Redfield and generally likes him, said another official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He just thinks he is a poor communicator,” the official added.

Joe Grogan, former head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said Redfield had fans inside the White House who work on “addiction issues, on life issues, on HIV issues,” among other topics.

But he said Redfield has few political appointees to help him run a complex agency. “How do you run a place like that with … [few] appointees?” Grogan asked.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar called the director “a key scientific guide for the President and his administration, a trusted source for the American people, and a closely engaged partner of state and local governments.”

But Redfield is not a voice in coronavirus task force meetings, and “is never really in the Oval [Office] with the president,” said another senior administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal dynamics.

Even Redfield’s supporters say he has failed to be an effective advocate for the agency.

“Bob Redfield’s commitment to public health is completely strong,” said William Schaffner, a veteran infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University. But he said Redfield lacks the standing, deftness, and communication capacity to persuade skeptical audiences, including those in the White House, that protecting public health and fostering economic recovery are not opposing goals.

Redfield, for his part, downplayed Trump’s criticism of the CDC school reopeniing guidelines after a coronavirus task force briefing Wednesday, saying the agency and the president were “totally aligned.”

“We’re both trying to open the schools,” he said.

White House spokesman Judd Deere also disputed big differences, saying in a statement the White House and the CDC “have been working together in partnership since the very beginning of this pandemic to carry out the President’s highest priority: the health and safety of the American public.

“The CDC is the nation’s trusted health protection agency and its infectious disease and public health experts have helped deliver critical solutions to save lives. We encourage all Americans to continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines and use best-practices they have learned, such as social distancing, face coverings, and good hygiene, to maintain public health and continue our Transition to Greatness.”

But some health experts were indignant the agency had been ordered to rewrite guidance to reopen schools to “make it easier and cost less” — a demand that effectively “turns science on its head,” said Tom Inglesby, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security.

“CDC should be giving their best judgments on how to lower risks to make schools safer,” he said. “That’s their job. If they aren’t allowed to do that, the public will lose confidence in the guidance.”

Why are they ‘not shouting “fire”?’

The diminished role of the 74-year-old agency has bewildered infectious-disease experts, as well as members of the public seeking guidance.

After six states set one-day case records on July 3, Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University’s School of Medicine, tweeted at Tom Frieden, a former CDC director, “Tom, where is @CDCgov ? Why are they not out there shouting ‘fire’?”

Frieden shot back: “They are still there, still doing great work, just not being allowed to talk about it, not being allowed to guide policy, not being allowed to develop, standardize, and post information that would give, by state and county, the status of the epidemic and of our control measures.”

Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer at Seattle and King County health department, added: “Agree. Muzzled, neutered and exiled.”

The agency has been largely invisible. After more than three months of silence, it resumed briefings for the public last month. There have been two.

By comparison, when the H1N1 swine flu pandemic hit the United States in the spring of 2009, the CDC held briefings almost every day for six consecutive weeks.

During this outbreak, the agency’s regular briefings ended abruptly after White House officials were angered when a top CDC leader warned that Americans could face “significant disruption” to their lives as a result of the virus’s spread to the United States.

CDC officials say they are still getting their message out, pointing to more than 2,000 documents providing pandemic-related information about reopening and staying safe for dozens of groups and venues, including funeral home directors, amusement parks, and pet owners. Each Friday, the CDC also posts CovidView, a weekly report of selected data and trends on testing, hospitalizations, and reported deaths.

But the information is posted without additional explanation or analysis.

“I want to hear a real person give me three minutes based on these findings,” said del Rio, also a global health and infectious-disease professor at Emory. “I want to see them in the news, being interviewed, giving us the data.”

Scientists at the CDC and former colleagues speak of deep frustration and low morale over its inability to fully share and explain scientific and medical information.

Researchers are fearful for their jobs and want to protect the integrity of the data they release. “If you want to say something, you’re thinking, ‘what’s the White House going to say and how are they going to use it,’ ” said one longtime scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

The lack of briefings has fostered misunderstandings at times. In early April, for instance, when the agency reversed its position and recommended the use of cloth face coverings, CDC scientists gave no public briefings explaining why they made the change.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Nancy Cox, a virologist and former CDC official who led the influenza program for 22 years and was part of the agency’s response during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. “But the reasoning behind those changes should be explained as clearly as possible and then you can get everyone on board.”

In the CDC’s absence, academic medical centers, public health and professional disease groups have filled the void by holding coronavirus briefings and providing analysis of key issues, data and research studies. Frieden, the president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New York nonprofit, has also been posting long Twitter threads analyzing the weekly CDC data released on Fridays.

Speaking ‘with an unfettered voice’

Alarmed at the agency’s diminished role, nearly 350 public health organizations sent a letter Tuesday to Azar urging him to advocate for the CDC. The agency must be allowed to speak based on the best available science “and with an unfettered voice,” said John Auerbach, president and chief executive of Trust for America’s Health, a public health nonprofit that led the effort.

House Democrats echoed those concerns in a separate letter to Azar last month. Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said they were troubled by reports that administration officials are considering narrowing the CDC’s mission and embedding more political appointees at the Atlanta-based agency.

Traditionally the CDC has one political appointee, the director. Now it has Redfield and five other political appointees, including two advisers who were added in recent weeks.

“Now more than ever, the American people need a robust and effective CDC that is not repeatedly undermined by others in the administration, including the President and the Vice President,” the letter said.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows views the agency as a problem and has criticized the CDC repeatedly to other administration officials, said a senior administration official.

White House and HHS officials are discussing what the CDC’s “core mission needs to be,” said one adviser familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment on policy deliberations. The discussions were first reported by Politico.

Over the years, the agency that was founded to fight malaria now works on virtually every aspect of public health. “It has tried to be everything to everyone,” the adviser said, suggesting the agency might need to refocus more narrowly.

On the global front, administration officials are also weighing a $2.5 billion initiative called the President’s Response to Outbreaks that would move a significant portion of national and international pandemic responses to the State Department, according to a draft obtained by The Post. Details were first reported by Devex.

“There is no clear leadership role for CDC” in this plan, said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president for global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “In global health, you need an engaged CDC.”

Taken together, the administration efforts seem “designed to position CDC to the margins,” said one federal health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

‘Boogeyman where there aren’t any’

The report that drew the email attack, accusing the agency of undermining the president, had provided detailed but incomplete information about pregnancy risks related to the coronavirus. It found pregnant women with covid-19 were more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit, and to need ventilator support than infected women who are not pregnant.

The sender, Alexander, a specialist in health research methods, is a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump ally who was recently appointed assistant HHS secretary for public affairs , which includes the CDC.

The email was directed to Redfield and Caputo.

Even amid the intense criticism of the agency, the email “crosses the line,” said the official, who was aware of the content.

Like all of the CDC’s reports, the analysis itself noted several limitations. One key one that researchers acknowledged was that they did not have data to indicate whether the pregnant women were hospitalized because of labor and delivery, or because they had covid-19.

Administration officials are “seeing political boogeymen where there aren’t any,” the federal health official said, adding that such narratives could further hamper the U.S. response.

“It could feed the fire to limit the flow of scientific data and communication to the general population,” the official said. “People are getting sick and dying. Can we just focus on the science?”

Alexander said in his email that the lack of data about why women were hospitalized was a “key issue.”

“The CDC is undermining the President by what they put out, this is my opinion and sense, and I am reading it and can see the subtle and direct hits,” he wrote.

Alexander, also a part-time assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Caputo said in an interview that he agreed with Alexander. The CDC represents itself as the gold standard for public health agencies, he said, “but in the case of pregnancy analysis, it wasn’t even bronze.”

He called CDC’s track record “spotty” and “questionable,” pointing to Zika diagnostic testing errors in 2016.

“In many cases over the years, regardless of administration, the CDC has undermined presidents and themselves,” Caputo said, referring to leaked drafts of CDC guidances. “Who says the CDC is the sole font of wisdom when it comes to detecting and fighting deadly pathogens?”

Experts say that even with some big unanswered questions, the pregnancy findings represent the best available evidence and are important. The lack of data reflects decades of long-neglected national surveillance on pregnancy.

“I don’t think this is frightening women,” said Denise Jamieson, who heads the obstetrics and gynecology department at Emory University and Emory Healthcare. True, the report “suffers from completeness of data,” she said. But now doctors can be more confident that pregnant women are more likely to have severe disease and use “this really important information” to counsel patients, she said.

 

 

U.S. Tops Three Million Known Infections as Coronavirus Surges

https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2020-07-07/us-coronavirus-cases-hit-3-million-stoking-fears-of-overwhelmed-hospitals

U.S. tops three million known infections as coronavirus surges ...

 The U.S. coronavirus outbreak crossed a grim new milestone of over 3 million confirmed cases on Tuesday as more states reported record numbers of new infections, and Florida faced an impending shortage of intensive care unit hospital beds.

Authorities have reported alarming upswings of daily caseloads in roughly two dozen states over the past two weeks, a sign that efforts to control transmission of the novel coronavirus have failed in large swaths of the country.

California, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas on Tuesday shattered their previous daily record highs for new cases. About 24 states have also reported disturbingly high infection rates as a percentage of diagnostic tests conducted over the past week.

In Texas alone, the number of hospitalized patients more than doubled in just two weeks.

The trend has driven many more Americans to seek out COVID-19 screenings. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday it was adding short-term “surge” testing sites in three metropolitan areas in Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

In Houston, a line of more than 200 cars snaked around the United Memorial Medical Center as people waited for hours in sweltering heat to get tested. Some had arrived the night before to secure a place in line at the drive-through site.

“I got tested because my younger brother got positive,” said Fred Robles, 32, who spent the night in his car. “There’s so many people that need to get tested, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Dean Davis, 32, who lost his job due to the pandemic, said he arrived at the testing site at 3 a.m. on Tuesday after he waited for hours on Monday but failed to make the cutoff.

“I was like, let me get here at three, maybe nobody will be here,” Davis said. “I got here, there was a line already.”

In Florida, more than four dozen hospitals across 25 of 67 counties reported their intensive care units had reached full capacity, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. Only 17% of the total 6,010 adult ICU beds statewide were available on Tuesday, down from 20% three days earlier.

Additional hospitalizations could strain healthcare systems in many areas, leading to an uptick in deaths from the respiratory illness that has killed more than 131,000 Americans to date.

A widely cited mortality model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected on Tuesday that U.S. deaths would reach 208,000 by Nov. 1, with the outbreak expected to gain new momentum heading into the fall.

A hoped-for summertime decline in transmission of the virus never materialized as previously predicted, the IHME said.

“The U.S. didn’t experience a true end of the first wave of the pandemic,” IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said in a statement. “This will not spare us from a second surge in the fall, which will hit particularly hard in states currently seeing high levels of infections.”

‘PRESSURE ON GOVERNORS’

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pushed for restarting the U.S. economy and urged Americans to return to their normal routines, said on Tuesday he would lean on state governors to open schools in the fall.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said some people wanted to keep schools closed for political reasons. “No way, so we’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

New COVID-19 infections are rising in 42 states, based on a Reuters analysis of the past two weeks. By Tuesday afternoon, the number of confirmed U.S. cases had surpassed 3 million, affecting nearly one of every 100 Americans and a population roughly equal to Nevada’s.

In Arizona, another hot spot, the rate of coronavirus tests coming back positive rose to 26% for the week ended July 5, leading two dozen states with positivity rates exceeding 5%. The World Heath Organization considers a rate over 5% to be troubling.

The surge has forced authorities to backpedal on moves to reopen businesses, such as restaurants and bars, after mandatory lockdowns in March and April reduced economic activity to a virtual standstill and put millions of Americans out of work.

The Texas state fair, which had been scheduled to open on Sept. 25, has been canceled for the first time since World War Two, organizers announced on Tuesday.

In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine said the state was ordering people in seven counties to wear face coverings in public starting on Wednesday evening.

 

 

 

Nonprofit health systems — despite huge cash reserves — get billions in CARES funding

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/nonprofit-health-systems-despite-huge-cash-reserves-get-billions-in-car/580078/

CLICK ON LINK ABOVE FOR ACCESS TO GRAPHICS

Next Steps for Public Policy | Cato Institute

Healthcare Dive’s findings revive concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up COVID-19 rescue funding allocated by Congress.
The nation’s largest nonprofit health systems, led by Kaiser Permanente, Ascension and Providence, have received more than $7.1 billion in bailout funds from the federal government so far, as the novel coronavirus forced them to all but shutter their most profitable business lines.

At the same time, some of these same behemoth systems sit on billions in cash, and even greater amounts when taking into account investments that can be liquidated over time. That raises questions about how much money these systems actually need from the federal government given they have hundreds of days worth of cash on hand. Indeed, some big systems, like Kaiser Permanente, are already returning some of the funds.

And it revives concerns that greater examination of hospital finances is needed before divvying up rescue packages.

Nonprofits with more cash and greater net income tend to have received less funding — but not always

This is the second story of a Healthcare Dive series examining the bailout funds health systems received amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In this report, we focus on the 20 largest nonprofits by revenue and the amount of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding they have received compared to the amount of cash on hand and recent financial performance. Healthcare Dive used bond filings filed as of June 12 to compile the amount of CARES funding received by health systems. In some instances, we relied on data from Good Jobs First, which also tracks the money. In addition to bond filings, we relied on annual audited financial statements and analyst reports to compile financial performance and days cash on hand.

Cash reserves

The cash hospitals have on hand has become an important metric to watch over the past few months as many have seen reserves dwindle to pay everyday expenses as revenue has dried up. At the same time, hospital volumes have plunged due to the economy grinding to a halt.

“You can’t write a payroll check off of accounts receivables, you have to write it off your cash and cash equivalents.” Rick Gundling, senior vice president of healthcare financial practices for Healthcare Financial Management Association, told Healthcare Dive.

In the early days of the outbreak in the U.S., some hospital executives sounded the alarm over dire financial straits, particularly small, rural hospitals whose executives warned they were weeks away from not making payroll. These pleas helped push Congress to pass massive rescue packages, with providers earmarked for $175 billion thus far.

Nonprofit health systems tend to keep more cash on hand than publicly-traded hospital chains. That’s because investor-owned facilities can raise capital more quickly, mainly through the stock market, while nonprofits have to rely on the bond market and their own operations, Gundling said.

Another important avenue that can boost cash is investments. It’s common for large nonprofits to rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations of running hospitals and caring for patients, in large part due to their investments in the stock market.

For example, Chicago-based CommonSpirit posted an operating loss of $602 million during its fiscal year 2019 but net income far exceeded that, totaling $9 billion. It was buoyed by investments and its recent merger, bringing together Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, according to its audited financial statement for the year ended June 30, 2019.

Many nonprofit health systems rake in more in net income than they do from their core operations

Ascension, the second-largest nonprofit system, received about $492 million in CARES funding, according to Good Jobs First. Ascension reported having 231 days cash on hand. Its unrestricted cash and investments totaled a sum of $15.5 billion as of March 31.

Kaiser, the nation’s largest nonprofit system, has about 200 days of cash on hand as of its fiscal year end, Dec. 31, according to a recent report from Fitch Ratings.

Providence, the third-largest nonprofit and first U.S. health system to treat a COVID-19 patient, reported 182 days of cash on hand as of March 31, according to a May bond filing.

However, Cleveland Clinic has the most cash on hand when measured in days among the top 20 nonprofits.

Cleveland Clinic had 337 days of cash on hand at the end of March, according to an unaudited financial statement from May. That’s nearly an entire year’s worth of operating expenses. The system has received $199 million in CARES funding, according to that same filing.

Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic had the second most days of cash on hand with 252. Mayo Clinic has received $220 million in grant money, according to a May financial filing.

“You would never see that much cash on an investor-owned hospital,” Gundling said. “Generally, they want to pour that cash back into the services,” he said.

NYC Health + Hospitals, also the nation’s largest municipal health system, had the fewest days of cash on hand and it received $745 million in CARES funding, the second-most compared to other systems.

How health systems’ funding and cash on hand compare

Samantha Liss (@samanthann) | Twitter

Risks of accepting bailout money

Sitting on a pile of money and accepting the bailout funds is already raising eyebrows.

“There is significant headline risk,” Michael Abrams, co-founder and partner at Numerof & Associates, told Healthcare Dive.

Worried about the optics, other institutions with considerable reserves or endowments have returned federal bailout funds, including Harvard University and major health insurers.

Providers are returning relief funds, too. Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest nonprofit by revenue, told the San Francisco Business Times it has returned more than $500 million in CARES funding. CEO Greg Adams the system “will do fine” despite the setback from the pandemic.

Mara McDermott, vice president of McDermott+Consulting, agrees there is a risk in accepting the grant money if systems possess such large reserves. Yet, she also cautioned that the healthcare ecosystem is so much more complicated.

“Regardless of the structure, it requires a deeper dive into need and that’s not what HHS did. They just wrote checks,” McDermott told Healthcare Dive.

Just because a parent company has a large cash reserve, it doesn’t mean that the money is readily available on a daily basis to a smaller practice it may own down the chain and one that hasn’t had any patients since March, she said.

“It’s easy to point the finger… but it’s much more complex than that,” she said.

The first tranche of money HHS sent to hospitals was based on Medicare fee-for-service business, and later on net patient service revenue. These formulas were criticized for putting some hospitals at an advantage compared to others, particularly those with larger shares of Medicaid patients. HHS has since released more targeted funding for providers in hot spots such as New York and plans to funnel funding to those serving a large share of Medicaid members in an attempt to address earlier concerns.

Still, without certainty of how long this public health crisis will last, no one knows how much cash on hand will ultimately be enough.

“A year’s cash on hand sounds like a lot of money but when you expend hundreds of millions of dollars a month, it won’t take you long to burn through that,” Scott Graham, CEO of Three Rivers Hospital, a 25-bed facility in rural Washington state, told Healthcare Dive.

Graham had feared in March that without quick intervention from the government, his hospital was near closure with just a few weeks cash on hand. The federal grant money has bought his hospital some time, about six months if volumes stay where they are, longer if they tick back up.

“I think what HHS did was right at the moment because we needed to ensure that the healthcare system survived this. It’s one thing for a small rural hospital to close, it’s another thing for the entire health system to collapse,” he said.

 

In blow to hospitals, judge rules for HHS in price transparency case

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/in-blow-to-hospitals-judge-rules-for-hhs-in-price-transparency-case/580395/

UPDATE: June 24, 2020: The American Hospital Association said it will appeal Tuesday’s ruling  that upholds the Trump administration’s mandate to force hospitals to disclose negotiated rates with insurers. The hospital lobby said it was disappointed in the ruling and will seek expedited review. AHA said the mandate “imposes significant burdens on hospitals at a time when resources are stretched thin and need to be devoted to patient care.”

If AHA seeks to have the rule stayed pending an appellate ruling, the decision on such a request “is likely to be almost as significant as this ruling is, since absent a stay, the rule will likely go into effect before the appellate court rules,” James Burns, a law partner at Akerman, told Healthcare Dive.

Dive Brief:

  • A federal judge ruled against the American Hospital Association on Tuesday in its lawsuit attempting to block an HHS rule pushing for price transparency. The judge ruled in favor of the department, which requires hospitals to reveal private, negotiated rates with insurers beginning Jan. 1.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, an appointee of President Donald Trump, was swayed neither by AHA’s argument that forcing hospitals to publicly disclose rates violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to reveal proprietary information nor by the claim that it would chill negotiations between providers and payers. The judge characterized the First Amendment argument as “half-hearted.”
  • Nichols seem convinced that the requirement will empower patients, noting in Tuesday’s summary judgment in favor of the administration that “all of the information required to be published by the Final Rule can allow patients to make pricing comparisons between hospitals.”

Dive Insight:

The ruling is a blow for hospitals, which have been adamantly opposed to disclosing their privately negotiated rates since HHS first unveiled its proposal in July 2019. AHA did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether it planned to appeal.

The legal debate hinges on the definition of “standard charges”, which is mentioned in the Affordable Care Act, though it was left largely undefined in the text. Trump issued an executive order last year that included negotiated rates as part of that definition.

Cynthia Fisher, founder of patienrightsadvocate.com, which filed an amicus brief in support of HHS, told Healthcare Dive on Tuesday the ruling could make shopping for health services more like buying groceries or retail.

“For the first time we will be able to know prices before we get care,” she said. “This court ruling rejects every claim to keep the secret hidden prices from consumers until after we get care.”