CMS retains 340B, site-neutral payment cuts in final hospital payment rule

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/cms-retains-340b-site-neutral-payment-cuts-final-hospital-payment-rule?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&mrkid=959610&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWTJZd1pqWXpZbVUwWTJKbSIsInQiOiJLV2JJQWM1clQ3OVBiaURjdFVUUUg2K093U21XZm0zVHNPa1hTUjdTWEdxSWZpYklsako0TVMrZFYxazVGZHFkOHJ3M1pWNlwvYW5pVWpPcjM1TEtVRnErOWgxU3NKc1dcLzk3TnZTc1pLZVI0Ymcrb0V1ZEZ2eDh1djFwa1FlaW50In0%3D

billing statement from a doctor's office

The Trump administration finalized a hospital payment rule Friday that retains proposed cuts to off-campus clinics and the 340B drug discount program. 

The changes outlined in the hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) rule come despite both cuts being struck down in legal challenges and amid major pushback from providers.

Site-neutral payments

The agency decided to move ahead with the two-year phase-in of the cuts to outpatient services for clinic visits furnished in an off-campus hospital outpatient setting. The goal is to bring payments to off-campus clinics in line with standalone physicians’ offices.

“With the completion of the two-year phase-in, the cost sharing will be reduced to $9, saving beneficiaries an average of $14 each time they visit an off-campus department for a clinic visit in [calendar year] 2020,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a fact sheet.

However, the two-year project that was supposed to start in 2019 has been halted because of a federal court ruling.

CMS decided to move forward with the cuts for off-campus clinics.

“The government has appeal rights, and is still evaluating the rulings and considering, at the time of this writing, whether to appeal the final judgment,” the agency said.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) said that the site-neutral payment rule was misguided and that CMS ignored the recent court ruling. 

“There are many real and crucial differences between hospital outpatient departments and the patient populations they serve and other sites of care,” said Tom Nickels, executive vice president of the AHA, in a statement.

CMS also finalized a proposed cut for the 340B program that cuts payments by 22.5% in 2020.

CMS has installed prior cuts in 2018 and 2019 to the program that requires drug companies to provide discounts to safety-net hospitals in exchange for getting their products covered on Medicaid.

However, a court ruling has struck down the cuts, and CMS is currently appealing the decision.

CMS said that it hopes to conduct a 340B hospital survey to collect drug acquisition cost data for 2018 and 2019, and the survey will craft a remedy if the appeal doesn’t go their way.

“In the event the 340B hospital survey data are not used to devise a remedy, we intend to consider the public input to inform the steps we would take to propose a remedy for CYs 2018 and 2019 in the CY 2021 rulemaking,” the agency said.

Hospital groups commented that CMS should drop both the 340B and site-neutral cuts because of the legal challenges.

Several groups weren’t happy that the cuts were still there.

“The agency also prolongs confusion and uncertainty for hospitals by maintaining unlawful policies it has been told to abandon in clear judicial directives,” said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals, in a statement Friday.

The hospital-backed group 340B Health added that CMS needs to stop this “unfunny version of ‘Groundhog Day’ and restore Medicare payments for 340B hospitals to their legal, statutory level.”

 

 

 

Judge strikes down Trump administration’s site-neutral payments rule

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/judge-strikes-down-trump-administration-s-site-neutral-payments-rule?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiT1dJNE5tUTFZV0k1TVdRNCIsInQiOiJMakFtS1IzZmxaRDlQNUtjdFdMUHVYUFdBd1wvXC9EZFR3ekhHU3ZsYVNib2t3bTlEb0Z2bklLZndEZXFOTjZ1RVZ0bURYMXI5dGFNcW92SXFYV25HTVh4d01tNEY4YkVCUnBMamhpbllXSytVTW5ybGJ1OTh0UjJmVDRmSWJ6c1wveCJ9&mrkid=959610

Gavel court room lawsuit judge

In a huge win for hospitals, a federal judge has tossed the Trump administration’s rule instituting site-neutral payments.

District of Columbia Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Tuesday that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) overstepped its authority when it finalized a plan to extend a site-neutral payment policy to clinic visits with the goal of paying the same in Medicare for evaluation and management services at physician offices and hospitals.

Hospital groups immediately rebelled against the plan. Within hours of the rule’s finalization in November, the American Hospital Association (AHA) vowed to challenge the change, as it would cut payment rates to hospitals significantly. AHA and the Association of American Medical Colleges formally did so about a month later.

CMS argues that the payment change would save Medicare beneficiaries $150 million per year, lowering average copays from $23 to $9. Those savings, however, are coupled with significant payment cuts to hospitals; the AHA estimated losses of $380 million in 2019 and $760 million in 2020.

In her order, Collyer said that the rule did not meet the standard of a method to control unneeded hospital use, as CMS argued in court filings.

“CMS believes it is paying millions of taxpayer dollars for patient services in hospital outpatient departments that could be provided at less expense in physician offices. CMS may be correct,” the judge wrote. “But CMS was not authorized to ignore the statutory process for setting payment rates in the Outpatient Prospective Payment System and to lower payments only for certain services performed by certain providers.”

Collyner did not require CMS to pay funds lost under policy change so far this year and instead requested a status report by Oct.1 from both parties to determine whether additional briefings are required to decide a suitable resolution.

In a statement, the AHA and AAMC praised the judge’s decision.

“The ruling, which will allow hospitals to maintain access to important services for patients and communities, affirmed that the cuts directly undercut the clear intent of Congress to protect hospital outpatient departments because of the many real and crucial differences between them and other sites of care,” the hospital groups said. “Now that the court has ruled, it is up to the agency to put forth remedies for impacted hospitals and the patients they serve.”

 

 

 

Trade Secrets Challenge Could Trip Up Trump Hospital Prices Plan

https://news.bloomberglaw.com/health-law-and-business/trade-secrets-challenge-could-trip-up-trump-hospital-prices-plan

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A legal fight is looming over a Trump administration proposal that would require hospitals to list their standard prices for medical services and their negotiated rates with insurance companies—prices some believe are proprietary.

Hospital and insurance groups are likely to sue if the administration moves forward with a final rule, and the litigation could raise thorny legal questions about a company’s right to be competitive and a patient’s right to make informed health-care choices.

One way hospitals and insurance groups may try to fight the rule is by claiming their negotiated prices are trade secrets, health attorneys say.

“We’ve been looking in our research group at whether health-care prices can be trade secrets, and the law is very unsettled on this issue,” said Jaime King, associate dean and professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued the proposed rule July 29 as part of a Trump administration push to make health-care costs more transparent.

It would require hospitals to list their standard prices and what individual insurers have agreed to pay for 70 “shoppable” medical services—like psychotherapy, blood tests, MRIs and ultrasounds—that can be scheduled in advance.

The government’s goal is to give consumers the information they need to compare what hospitals charge for similar services and to help them understand their potential financial liability for services they obtain at the hospital. Hospitals that fail to comply would be fined.

Listing the negotiated price an insurance company will pay on a patient’s behalf will show consumers how effective different health insurers are at negotiating lower out-of-pocket costs, attorneys say.

“We believe that this, in turn, will enable health-care consumers to make more informed decisions, increase market competition, and ultimately drive down the cost of health-care services, making them more affordable for all patients,” the CMS said in its proposal.

Legal Authority Questioned

The American Hospital Association was quick to object, contending in a prepared statement that the plan “exceeds the administration’s legal authority.” If the proposal is finalized, the trade group said it would look at its legal options.

“I think it’s reasonable for hospital groups to be looking at potential challenges if the rule is finalized as proposed,” said Philo Hall, senior counsel in Epstein, Becker and Green LLP’s health-care and life sciences practice.

The Affordable Care Act amended the Public Health Service Act by requiring hospitals to make public their “standard prices” for items and services. Attorneys say the CMS is now interpreting standard prices to also include the privately negotiated rates for each individual insurer.

But neither Congress, the Department of Health and Human Services, nor hospital groups have ever considered the standard prices provision in the ACA to include commercial and financial information that is treated as confidential in a highly competitive industry, said Hall. Hall served as counsel to the George W. Bush administration’s HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt and worked closely in that role with Alex Azar, the current HHS chief.

“The concern that the government is overstepping is not frivolous,” said Michael Adelberg, a former senior CMS official who now leads the health-care strategy practice of the Faegre, Baker, Daniels Consulting.

“I don’t know if you can say to two entities ‘You can engage in a contract in a competitive market, but the most important terms of that contract are public,’” he said. “I don’t know if you can do that.”

In a statement, America’s Health Insurance Plans said the CMS proposal would make it harder for insurance companies to bargain for lower rates. The group said even the Federal Trade Commission agrees that making hospitals disclose their privately negotiated rates would create a floor—not a ceiling—for what hospitals would be willing to accept.

When the HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology indicated in a proposal that it was considering adding network discounts and pricing data to the definition of electronic health information, UnitedHealth Group told the agency the details of the negotiated rates and the overall cost of its networks is a trade secret.

“Although federal courts have upheld regulations compelling the disclosure of Medicare cost report information, there is a significant difference between government payment information held by the government and the internal, proprietary information that the proposed regulation would compel UHC to disclose,” the insurance company said in comments in June.

CMS Could Prevail

The CMS proposal is similar to an HHS rule that would have required pharmaceutical companies to disclose the list price of their drugs in TV advertisements. A federal district court judge in July said the rule exceeded the administration’s regulatory authority and blocked it from taking effect.

In the drug pricing rule, the agency pointed to two provisions in the Social Security Act that tell the HHS secretary to make rules necessary for the “efficient administration of the Medicare and Medicaid program” as the source of authority.

But the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said there’s nothing in the law’s text, structure, or context to indicate Congress intended to give the HHS the power to issue a rule that forces drugmakers to disclose their list prices.

Attorneys say the agency’s authority to issue the hospital pricing rule is more explicit in the ACA.

“In this case, we have a different statutory provision that delegates the agency with a more specific task,” a former HHS attorney, who asked not to be identified, said in a conversation with Bloomberg Law.

“We’re not talking about a general statute concerning the efficient administration of the Medicare program to drug companies,” the former HHS attorney said. “We’re talking about an explicit statutory provision that directs the agency to require federally funded hospitals to disclose their ‘standard charges.’”

On that, the former HHS attorney said, the CMS could prevail. But it depends on how the agency defines “standard charges.” The agency could ultimately decide not to include negotiated rates after it considers the public comments.

In a statement, the CMS said its proposal is consistent with the ACA and responsive to patients and their advocates who say knowledge of negotiated rates is necessary for individuals to be able to determine their out-of-pocket costs for hospital services.

“All Americans have the right to know the price of their health care up front,” an agency spokesperson said. “Health-care prices shouldn’t be a mystery and consumers will be able to shop for health care just like they do for everything else they buy.”

 

 

 

Federal appeals court limits hospitals’ disproportionate-share funding

https://www.modernhealthcare.com/payment/federal-appeals-court-limits-hospitals-disproportionate-share-funding?utm_source=modern-healthcare-daily-finance-wednesday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20190814&utm_content=article1-headline

Hospitals that care for a large share of Medicaid, low-income and uninsured patients stand to receive less funding from the federal government after the D.C. Circuit reconsidered how Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital reimbursement is calculated.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed a lower court and reinstated a 2017 rule establishing that payments by Medicare and private insurers are to be included in calculating a hospital’s DSH limit, ultimately lowering its maximum reimbursement.

In Tuesday’s ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson opined that the rule aligns with the intent of the Medicaid Act.

“By requiring the inclusion of payments by Medicare and private insurers, the 2017 rule ensures that DSH payments will go to hospitals that have been compensated least and are thus most in need,” Henderson wrote.

The case, brought by four children’s hospitals in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington and an association representing eight children’s hospitals in Texas, concerns the calculation of the uncompensated costs of treating Medicaid beneficiaries known as the “Medicaid shortfall.

For instance, if a hospital spends $1 million on treating Medicaid patients who have no other healthcare coverage and Medicaid pays $600,000, then the Medicaid shortfall is $400,000. In some instances, Medicaid patients have additional third-party coverage such as Medicare or private insurance.

Hospitals cannot receive more money in Medicaid DSH payments than they spent to treat Medicaid beneficiaries or the uninsured. Part of the motivation behind that stipulation was to prevent hospitals from double dipping by collecting DSH payments to cover costs that had already been reimbursed. Previous cases also revealed that some states have made DSH payments to state psychiatric or university hospitals that exceed the net costs, or even total costs, of operating the facilities.

Providers successfully fought the 2017 rule that limited hospitals’ reimbursement. A federal judge sided with the hospitals that claimed the CMS overstepped its authority and essentially ignored payments by commercial insurers and Medicare. That was overturned Tuesday.

The Children’s Hospital Association of Texas said in a statement that it is exploring its options.

“We are disappointed with the result because it will reduce critical Medicaid funding to safety net providers like children’s hospitals,” the association said. “These hospitals are heavily reliant on Medicaid payments because between 50% and 80% of their inpatient days are covered by Medicaid. Children’s hospitals care for all children, and are, in fact, often the only place that children with complex conditions can get life-saving care.”

 

 

 

Dignity Health to pay $100 million, make mandatory pension contributions in settlement

https://www.pionline.com/courts/dignity-health-pay-100-million-make-mandatory-pension-contributions-settlement

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Dignity Health, San Francisco, will pay $100 million to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit challenging its status as a church plan.

The settlement, set for final approval Aug. 1, calls for Dignity Health to contribute $50 million in 2020 and $50 million in 2021. It also requires mandatory funding contributions to the plan for five years and payment of $1.49 million to a related group of vested participants, according to motions filed June 27 with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The settlement notice filed by the plaintiffs notes that Dignity Health has made previous voluntary contributions to the plan, including $271 million in fiscal 2018, but “has no obligation under the plan document to continue to do so,” and the impact of a merger into CommonSpirit Health on plan funding decisions is “unknown.”

Actuarial estimates provided by Dignity Health project required contributions of $162 million in 2021, $170 million in 2022, $178 million in 2023 and $187 million in 2024, according to the court filing.

The complaint in Rollins et al. vs. Dignity Health et al. was first filed in April 2013 by plaintiffs seeking more than $2 billion in missed pension contributions and other damages. Among other claims, the lawsuit challenged the interpretations made by the IRS and the Department of Labor that allowed the hospitals in the Dignity Health network, which have varying degrees of church associations, to be exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

By December 2013, the District Court had ruled that Dignity Health did not qualify for a church plan exemption from ERISA because only a church can sponsor and maintain a church plan. After various motions, that decision was affirmed in July 2016, by the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco.

In August 2016, Dignity Health asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision, and the case was consolidated with two similar church plan challenges against Advocate Health Care Network and St. Peter’s Healthcare System.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2017 that pension plans did not have to be established by a church to be exempt from ERISA, as long as they are controlled by or associated with one. Plaintiffs then filed an amended class-action complaint in November 2017 in the 9th Circuit.

 

Ominous sign in ACA case

Image result for aca in court

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday added a new question to the high-stakes lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act’s survival: Whether Democratic attorneys general or the House of Representatives have the legal standing to defend the ACA in court.

Translation, from Axios’ Sam Baker: The court is asking whether it ought to kick out the entire pro-ACA side of the case.

  • Technically Texas (with a group of other red states) is suing the Trump administration. But the Trump administration says it agrees with Texas’ position.
  • Blue states and House Democrats stepped in so that somebody would be arguing the pro-ACA position.

The intrigue: If the 5th Circuit does boot Democrats off of this lawsuit, that would likely mean no one can appeal a lower court’s ruling striking down the entire law.

  • As University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley explained on Twitter, it’s not necessarily clear how all that would play out.
  • Presumably, the Supreme Court would be disinclined to let a single district court judge have the final say on whether the Affordable Care Act lives or dies. So there would probably be fresh procedural wrangling to revive some kind of appeal.

The bottom line: This could be a bad development for the ACA — or it could end up not mattering much at all, if the court decides Democrats do have standing. But it’s definitely not a positive development for the health care law.

What’s next: The 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments July 9.

 

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