Safety-net providers operated with an average margin of 1.6% in 2017

https://www.healthcarefinancenews.com/news/safety-net-providers-operated-average-margin-16-2017?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWkdWbVpqTmxZelJpT1RNMCIsInQiOiJBa3NWRnZ1KzVEc29BeFkyMnRTUUtmaFRZNWgrVmVGTXJ0SlwvdW5NVitiUGQzVDJjYXFXRkd4eUlvckROVG1uQkxQdE9ROVZOM0pwQWJBUlpmK0dGZnEwS0V2XC9wRUs4SUQ3bFc3bmorbVlTeXZQaHhHbjRva2V6UnQwakZtVHZaIn0%3D

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This is less than half their 2016 average and below the 7.8 percent average of other U.S. hospitals, according to the annual study.

Hospitals that serve vulnerable patients have much lower average margins that other providers, according to America’s Essential Hospitals.

The safety-net providers have persistently high levels of uncompensated and charity care that pushed average margins down to one-fifth that of other hospitals in 2017, according to the annual study, Essential Data: Our Hospitals, Our Patients. They operated with an average margin of 1.6 percent in 2017 — less than half their 2016 average and far below the 7.8 percent average of other U.S. hospitals, according to the data from Essential Hospitals’ 300 members.

While these hospitals represent about 5 percent of all U.S. hospitals, they provided 17.4 percent of all uncompensated care, or $6.7 billion, and 23 percent of all charity care, or $5.5 billion in 2017, the study said.

THE IMPACT

Amercia’s Essential Hospitals fears further financial pressure from $4 billion in federal funding cuts to disproportionate share hospitals slated to go into effect on October 1. This represents a third of current funding levels.

The DSH payments are statutorily required and are intended to offset hospitals’ uncompensated care costs. In 2017, Medicaid made a total of $18.1 billion in DSH payments, including $7.7 billion in state funds and $10.4 billion in federal funds, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, or MACPAC.

MACPAC recommends starting with cuts of $2 billion in the first year.

The association and other organizations have been urging Congress to stop or phase-in the cuts. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress must take action to ease the DSH cuts.

TREND

Since 1981, Medicaid DSH payments have helped offset essential hospitals’ uncompensated care costs.

The study data shows essential hospitals provide disproportionately high levels of uncompensated and charity care.

In 2017, three-quarters of essential hospitals’ patients were uninsured or covered by Medicaid or Medicare and 53 percent were racial or ethnic minorities. They served 360,000 homeless individuals, 10 million with limited access to healthy food, 23.9 million living below the poverty line, and 17.1 million without health insurance, the study said.

The association’s members averaged 17,000 inpatient discharges, or 3.1 times the volume of other acute-care hospitals. They operated 31 percent of level I trauma centers and 39 percent of burn care beds nationally.

ON THE RECORD

“Our hospitals do a lot with often limited resources, but this year’s Medicaid DSH cuts will push them to the breaking point if Congress doesn’t step in,” said association President and CEO Dr. Bruce Siegel. “Our hospitals are on the front lines of helping communities and vulnerable people overcome social and economic barriers to good health, and they do much of this work out of their own pocket. They do this because they know going outside their walls means healthier communities and lower costs through avoided admissions and ED visits.”

 

 

Federal judge says HHS overstepped authority in cutting 340B payments

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals-health-systems/federal-judge-says-hhs-overstepped-authority-cutting-340b-payments?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTnpBNE1HTmtObUl3WVRkayIsInQiOiJFOU1xMDRPMGtzMCtnWXU4MExUVFAzZ3Jrdm5cL2s3S1dMRkVldTRWS2QyNmJZU255UWRIWW14QmtXVkJ2T2VTeGpYTVBvQXZWWW1JVnB0S0crTXV3aFhDS0wrY3NzTmtEYmJEMHdvSG03bGkxS2ZlREdiaWZydFZkbkdlXC9tTHE1In0%3D&mrkid=959610&utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Drug prices

A federal judge has sided with hospitals in the ongoing battle over cuts to 340B drug discount payments, saying the Department of Health and Human Services’ rule slashing money to the program overstepped the agency’s authority.

District Judge Rudolph Contreras from the District of Columbia has issued an injunction (PDF) on the final rule, as requested by the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges and America’s Essential Hospitals.

Contreras also denied HHS’ request for the hospital groups’ ongoing litigation against the 340B payment cuts to be dismissed.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services finalized the payment changes late last year, cutting the rate in 340B from up to 6% more than the average sales price for a drug to 22.5% less than the average sales price of a drug, slashing $1.6 billion in payments.

Hospital groups have warned that the cuts could substantially hurt their bottom lines, especially for providers with large populations of low-income patients. Higher cost for drugs in 340B could also lead to access problems for these patients.

Contreras said in his opinion (PDF) that the payment changes overstepped HHS’ authority.

Because the payment changes affect many drugs—any in the 340B program—and the payment cuts are a significant decrease, the agency bypassed Congress’ power to set those reimbursement rates with the rule, Contreras said.

But simply siding with the hospital groups could prove disruptive, he said, as retroactively adjusting payments and reimbursing hospitals for lost money over the past year would impact budget neutrality, requiring cuts elsewhere to offset the payments. So both parties will have to reconvene to determine the best way forward, Contreras said.

The AHA, AAMC and AEH issued a joint statement praising the ruling.

“America’s 340B hospitals are immeasurably pleased with the ruling that the Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully cut 2018 payment rates for certain outpatient drugs,” the groups said.

“The court’s carefully reasoned decision will allow hospitals and health systems in the 340B Drug Pricing Program to serve their vulnerable patients and communities without being hampered by deep cuts to the program.”

The case marks the groups’ second attempt at a legal challenge of the 340B cuts. A federal court rejected their initial appeal in July. 

An HHS spokesperson said in a statement emailed to FierceHealthcare that the agency is “disappointed” in Contreras’ ruling, but said it looks forward to addressing the judge’s concerns about potential disruption to payments.

“As the court correctly recognized, its judgment has the potential to wreak havoc on the system,” the agency said. “Importantly, it could have the effect of reducing payments for other important services and increasing beneficiary cost-sharing.”

Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said Contreras’ ruling puts lowered drug costs, that benefit all hospitals, at risk.

“The DC Federal District Court’s ruling to stop reforms to Medicare payment for drugs acquired under the 340B drug discount program is unfortunate because it undermines HHS efforts to cut drug costs and promote fairer payments,” Kahn said in a statement.

 

 

 

 

What to expect after whirlwind ACA ruling

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/what-to-expect-after-whirlwind-aca-ruling/544527/

Judge Reed O’Connor’s unexpectedly sweeping ruling calling the Affordable Care Act unconsitutional late Friday sent shock waves rippling through the healthcare landscape.

The ruling, which will almost certainly be appealed (likely up to the U.S. Supreme Court), would effectively wipe out Medicaid expansion, pre-existing condition protections and could affect a number of hospital payment reforms.

But the decision faces a lengthy appellate process, along with attacks from the left and right alike.

What happens immediately?

The ruling doesn’t have much immediate impact, as it was a declaratory judgment and not an injunction to stop the ACA. The Trump administration confirmed Friday night that the law would stay in place during appeals.

Still, President Donald Trump himself celebrated on Twitter in the early hours of Monday morning.

Not all of the administration officials echoed the tone, however, as CMS Administrator Seema Verma tweeted a message of reassurance Friday night, confirming that the exchanges would stay open through Saturday as previously planned.

A day later, however, Verma returned to script, tweeting “Obamacare has been struck down by a highly respected judge.”

Critics decried the timing of the ruling, which dropped on the penultimate day of an already-lagging open enrollment season for 2019. Kaiser Family Foundation put enrollment in the individual market at 17 million in 2016, 15.2 million in 2017 and 14.2 million as of Q1 2018.

Saturday dawned with potential confusion for tens of thousands of Americans looking to enroll at the last minute. The Justice Department had asked O’Connor to hold off on the ruling so that it didn’t affect 2019 enrollment on Healthcare.gov until after enrollment ended Saturday.

He issued his decision one day before. But it’s unclear what effect the ruling will have, if any, on 2019 insurance.

Republicans were in a bind with the timing as well, along with the mounting popularity of the ACA.

In 2018, as protections for pre-existing conditions took center stage in the midterms, Republicans changed tack and hedged their language around the ACA, promising to protect Americans’ coverage despite dozens of attempts at repealing the entire law. 

Which players will see the biggest impact?

The decision Friday evening sent ripples through Wall Street with major dips for hospitals and insurers. HCA stock dropped more than 5%, Cigna and Humana each fell 4%, Centene took a 7.5% hit and Molina dropped as much as 13%. Some stocks recovered later Monday morning.

Leerink analysts called Monday a buying opportunity for managed care organizations, along with WellCare and HCA.

While the law touches nearly every aspect of American healthcare, some players will take bigger hits than others.

Hospitals, especially those who serve a disproportionate number of ACA-insured patients, don’t need the further stress on their bottom lines.

America’s Essential Hospitals president and CEO Bruce Siegel called the ruling a “profoundly troubling development,” adding that “the crushing rise in the number of uninsured patients likely to follow this decision, absent a higher court’s reversal, will push [hospitals] to the breaking point.”

Health systems are “deeply disappointed” with O’Connor’s decision, said Rick Pollack, CEO of the American Hospital Association. “The ruling puts health coverage at risk for tens of millions of Americans, including those with chronic and pre-existing conditions, while also making it more difficult for hospitals and health systems to provide access to high-quality care.”

Multiple provider groups urged a stay in the decision until it moves through the appeals process.

 

 

 

 

340B FINAL RULE WILL LAUNCH ON JANUARY 1, 2019

https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/340b-final-rule-will-launch-january-1-2019

HHS shortens the 340B final rule implantation by six months after determining that it would not ‘interfere’ with the departments ‘comprehensive policies’ to address high drug costs.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

PhRMA says the ‘overly burdensome’ final rule fails to address hospital abuse of the program.

The new rule provides drug pricing information to 340B participants through a closed website.  

Proponents scoff at drug makers’ claims that more time is needed before the oft-delayed final rule is implemented.

After several delays, hundreds of public comments, a lawsuit, and an eight-year-old Congressional mandate, the federal government on Thursday bumped up the starting date of its 340B drug pricing final rule by six months.

In a notice published this week in the Federal Register, the Department of Health and Human Services said the final rule—which is designed to protect hospitals from being overcharged by drug manufacturers—would take effect on January 1, 2019, instead of July 1, 2019.

The final rule was supposed to take effect on January. 5, 2017, but HHS delayed implementation because it said it was in the midst of “developing new comprehensive policies to address the rising costs of prescription drugs.”

Hospitals got tired of waiting and filed suit, asking a federal judge to order the Trump Administration to launch the final rule on January 1, 2019. The hospitals allege that the delays are causing significant financial harm to the nearly 2,500 hospitals nationwide that participate in the 340B Drug Pricing Program.

In late October, the Trump Administration said it was considering accelerating implementation.

In bumping up the final rule implantation by six months, HHS said it “has determined that the finalization of the 340B ceiling price and civil monetary penalty rule will not interfere with HHS’s development of these comprehensive policies.”

Under the new rule, federal regulators will provide pricing information to 340B hospitals through a closed website, which proponents of the rule say is essential for ceiling price enforcement.

As expected, hospitals praised the action, and drug makers expressed disappointment.

“This rule is good for patients and for essential hospitals, which rely on 340B savings to make affordable drugs and health care services available to vulnerable people and underserved communities,” said America’s Essential Hospitals President and CEO Bruce Siegel, MD.

“It also ends years of delay for much-needed measures to hold drug companies accountable for knowingly overcharging covered entities in the 340B program,” Siegel said.

Maureen Testoni, interim president and CEO of 340B Health, called the announcement “a big step toward stopping drug companies from overcharging 340B hospitals, clinics, and health centers.”

“The next step toward ensuring true 340B drug maker transparency is for the administration to launch its ceiling price website so hospitals, clinics, and health centers can ascertain that they are paying the correct amounts for 340B medications,” Testoni said.

“We are encouraged that HHS says it will release that pricing reporting system shortly and that the department will communicate additional updates through its website,” she said.

PhRMA said it was “disappointed the Administration did not issue new proposals for this rule as it repeatedly stated it would.”

The pharmaceutical industry advocates said HHS “ignored the numerous concerns raised by stakeholders on the proposed ceiling price calculations, offset policy and civil monetary penalty provisions.”

Drug makers allege that hospitals have been scamming the 340B program, and PhRMA said Thursday that the final rule’s “flawed policies are not in line with the 340B statute and fail to address root problems in the 340B program that have enabled private 340B hospitals to generate record profit without commensurate benefit to patients.”

“Not only is the final rule itself overly burdensome in its requirements, but moving up its effective date also leaves manufacturers with very little time to make operational changes to systems and procedures,” PhRMA said.

Testoni scoffed at claims that more time was needed.

“The regulation now will be going into effect more than eight years after Congress mandated it—and only after a lawsuit filed by 340B Health and other hospital organizations to stop repeated administrative delays to the effective date,” Testoni said.

“As today’s final rule notes, these delays have given drug makers ‘more than enough time to prepare for its requirements.'”

“THESE DELAYS HAVE GIVEN DRUG MAKERS MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME TO PREPARE FOR ITS REQUIREMENTS.”

 

 

Rising Uninsured Rate Expected to Stress Margins of Nonprofit Providers

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More than 4 million people have lost coverage in the past two years, including many lower-income adults. That could prove problematic for safety net hospitals in the near future.

The ongoing efforts to destabilize the Affordable Care Act will adversely affect the operating margins of not-for-profit healthcare providers, according to a new analysis from S&P Global.

S&P analyst Allison Bretz said that over time, “a growing uninsured population could be a credit negative for not-for-profit hospitals and health systems, as these facilities would likely see an uptick in self-pay patients, charity care and bad debt.”

Two years into the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back the ACA, the uninsured population has risen from about 12.7% in 2016 to 15.5% in 2018.

A study by The Commonwealth Fund estimates that 4 million people have lost health insurance since 2016, and that the uninsured rate among lower-income adults rose from 21% in 2016 to 25.7% this spring.


“This will be most acute at safety-net providers and other providers with a high concentration of Medicaid patients, as that population is most vulnerable to many of these changes,” Bretz said in remarks accompanying the report.

Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of policy and advocacy for America’s Essential Hospitals, said the report “underscores concerns we’ve had since last year’s attempts to repeal the ACA and, now, with piecemeal changes that have weakened the law.”

“Many of the people who lose coverage seek care at our hospitals, which adds to uncompensated costs and puts more pressure on our members’ already low operating margins,” Feldpush said. “Because essential hospitals, by their mission, turn no one away, this could prove financially unsustainable for some.

Although active efforts to repeal the ACA in Congress have slowed in the past year, it is facing one of its greatest threats, as a federal judge in Texas hears a lawsuit brought by 20 states that challenges the constitutionality of the sweeping healthcare law.

For-profit, Payer Outlook Stable

While the rising uninsured rate could prove challenging for not-for-profit providers, S&P analyst David Peknay said it should have little effect on for-profit providers.

“The for-profit companies we rate have been reporting some increase in uninsured patients, consistent with national trends, but the impact on ratings is also currently immaterial,” he said.

The losses in covered lives for health insurance companies is offset by other factors, said S&P analyst Joseph Marinucci.

“A key contributing factor is the sustained migration of the government-sponsored insurance segments toward coordinated care (Medicare Advantage and managed Medicaid), which is expanding the market opportunity for health insurers,” Marinucci said.

“We expect ratings in the insurance sector to remain relatively stable in the near term despite the growth in the number of working-age uninsured individuals,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Bipartisan group of senators seek to block Trump cuts to drug discount program

http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/363772-gop-senators-move-to-block-trump-administrations-cuts-to-drug-discount?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=12524

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Six senators, including three Republicans, are asking GOP leadership to block a Trump administration rule that slashes funding for a federal drug discount program.

The program, called 340B, requires drug companies give discounts to health-care organizations that serve high volumes of low-income patients.

But a new rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which takes effect Jan. 1, cuts Medicare payments to hospitals enrolled in the program by $1.6 billion.

The senators are urging the cuts to be reversed in the year-end spending deal.

“We recognize there are opportunities to strengthen the program through targeted clarifications and improvements to ensure it continues to fulfill its purpose with integrity and efficiency and are willing to work with stakeholders to find productive solutions in this space,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“However, with a January 1, 2018 start date and over half of the Senate and half of the House of Representatives having expressed concerns with CMS’ rule, we request your help in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the 340B program by preventing these changes in an end of the year package.”

Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Debbie Stabenow(D-Mich.) all signed the letter.

The request follows a letter 51 senators sent to CMS earlier this year expressing concerns over the changes.

Hospital groups argue the rule would jeopardize the ability to serve low-income patients.

The American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges are suing the administration to block the rule.

CMS has argued that the changes will increase access to care and lower out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

 

Hospital groups, health systems sue HHS to halt $1.6B in payment cuts

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/hospital-groups-health-systems-sue-hhs-to-halt-1-6b-in-payment-cuts.html

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Three hospital groups and three provider organizations sued HHS Monday in an attempt to stop payment cuts for drugs purchased through the 340B Drug Pricing Program.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was filed by the following hospital groups: the American Hospital Association, America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges. The groups were joined in the lawsuit by three health systems: Brewer, Maine-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems; Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System; and Hendersonville, N.C.-based Park Ridge Health.

Earlier this month, CMS released its 2018 Medicare Outpatient Prospective Payment System rule, which finalizes a proposal to pay hospitals 22.5 percent less than the average sales price for drugs purchased through the 340B program. That’s compared to the current payment rate of average sales price plus 6 percent. This change would reduce Medicare payments to hospitals by $1.6 billion.

The lawsuit argues the 340B provisions of the OPPS final rule violate the Social Security Act and should be set aside. The lawsuit further alleges the 340B provisions are outside of the HHS secretary’s statutory authority.

The hospital groups and health systems are seeking an injunction that would prohibit HHS from implementing the 340B provisions of the OPPS final rule pending resolution of the lawsuit.

“From its beginning, the 340B Drug Pricing Program has been critical in helping hospitals stretch scarce federal resources to enhance comprehensive patient services and access to care,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the AHA. “CMS’s decision to cut Medicare payments for so many hospitals for drugs covered under the 340B program will dramatically threaten access to healthcare for many patients, including uninsured and other vulnerable populations. This lawsuit will prevent these significant cuts from moving forward.”