The following is the latest health policy news from the federal government as 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 12.  Some of the language used below is taken directly from government documents.

Provider Relief Fund

HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has released $450 million in American Rescue Plan grants to rural health care providers.  Go here to find the updated database of rural grant recipients.

Department of Health and Human Services

  • HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure have written to the nation’s governors about some of the challenges states will face when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends, including the redetermination of eligibility for current participants in Medicaid, CHIP, and Basic Health Programs and the need to address the flexibilities states have adopted to facilitate the delivery of care under the unusual conditions the pandemic has posed.  In addition to reminding governors of the president’s pledge to give them “…at least 60-days’ notice before any expiration or termination of the PHE,” the letter also includes links to tools that HHS and CMS have developed to help states with the work ahead.  Go here to see the letter from the HHS officials to governors.
  • HHS has announced the availability of $5 million for community health centers funded by HRSA to increase equitable access to cancer screenings.  In addition to helping health centers address and remove barriers to care, this funding will seek to increase the number of health center patients screened for cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer.  Also, with support from National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center partners, this funding will seek to ensure that health center patients have hands-on assistance finding cancer care and treatment if needed.  Learn more about this funding from this HHS news release and more about the funding, including eligibility and how to apply, from this funding opportunity notice.  Applications are due by June 15.
  • HHS has awarded $16.3 million in grants to help 31 recipients enhance and expand the telehealth infrastructure and capacity of Title X family planning clinics in 26 states, one U.S. territory, and one freely associated state.  These additional resources are intended to help Title X family planning clinics expand their capacity to provide telehealth services and increase their communities’ access to family planning services.  Learn more about the funding and find a list of the grant recipients from this HHS news release.
  • HHS and HRSA have announced the launch of the Maternal Mental Health Hotline, a new, confidential, toll-free hotline for expecting and new mothers experiencing mental health challenges.  The hotline launched on Mother’s Day, May 8, with counselors available to provide mental health support.  Those who contact the hotline can receive a range of support, including brief interventions from trained counselors and referrals to community-based and telehealth providers.  Callers also will receive evidence-based information and referrals to support groups and other community resources.  Learn more about the Maternal Mental Health Hotline from this HHS news release.
  • HHS’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) seeks nominees to serve on the department’s National Advisory Council for Healthcare Research and Quality.  The agency seeks individuals who are distinguished in a variety of aspects of health care endeavor.  Learn more about the council, its role, the specific types of backgrounds sought from new members, and how to submit nominations in this Federal Register notice.  Nominations are due by July 1.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

  • CMS has released a “State Health Official Letter” to provide guidance to states on coverage and payment for stand-alone vaccine counseling in Medicaid and CHIP.  In the letter CMS explains that it is interpreting the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) benefit to require the provision of stand-alone vaccine counseling to eligible beneficiaries.  This guidance links the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine and vaccine administration coverage and reimbursement under the American Rescue Plan with the health education requirement under Medicaid’s EPSDT benefit.  Learn more from the CMS letter to state health officials.
  • CMS has updated its “Coverage and Reimbursement of COVID-19 Vaccines, Vaccine Administration, and Cost-Sharing under Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Basic Health Program” toolkit.  The focus of this toolkit is to ensure that state and territorial Medicaid and CHIP agencies have the tools to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and to address the needs of more than 80 million Medicaid and CHIP beneficiaries and nearly one million Basic Health Program enrollees.  The latest version of the toolkit, according to CMS, includes updated information on dental billing codes and the wind-down of HRSA’s uninsured and underinsured funds.  CMS also has streamlined language on FDA and CDC vaccine authorizations.  Find the updated toolkit here.
  • CMS has published its reassignment of Medicaid provider claims final rule.  This final rule reinterprets the scope of the general requirement that state payments for Medicaid services must generally be made directly to the individual practitioner or institution providing services or to the beneficiary, in the case of a class of practitioners for which the Medicaid program is the primary source of revenue.  Specifically, this final rule explicitly authorizes states to make payments to third parties on behalf of individual practitioners for individual practitioners’ health insurance and welfare benefits, skills training, and other benefits customary for employees if the individual practitioner consents to such payments on their behalf.  See the final rule here.
  • With approvals of requests from South Dakota and Tennessee, CMS has extended to seven the number of states it has authorized to increase from two months to 12 the length of time pregnant and post-partum individuals remain eligible for Medicaid and CHIP coverage.  The agency is currently reviewing requests for similar extensions from nine other states and the District of Columbia.  Such extensions are authorized by the American Rescue Plan.  Learn more about this extension of Medicaid and CHIP coverage for qualified beneficiaries from this CMS news release.
  • The latest edition of MLN Connects, CMS’s online newsletter for information about Medicare reimbursement matters, includes features reminding providers about the upcoming deadline for reviewing their Open Payments data; the June 1 expansion of the ambulance prior authorization model; curriculum for teaching health care students about biosimilars; and more.  Find it here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Food and Drug Administration

  • The FDA has limited the authorized use of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine to individuals 18 years of age and older for whom other authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccines are not accessible or clinically appropriate and to individuals 18 years of age and older who elect to receive the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine because they would otherwise not receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  For an explanation of why the FDA has taken this action, see this agency news release.  Information about this decision and its underlying rationale has been added to the FDA’s updated fact sheet for health care providers administering vaccines and its updated fact sheet for recipients and caregivers.
  • The FDA has approved a new use for Olumiant (baricitinib) for the treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalized adults requiring supplemental oxygen, non-invasive or invasive mechanical ventilation, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).  Olumiant is the first immunomodulatory treatment for COVID-19 to receive FDA approval.  Find a general description of this new approval here and a technical description here.

Stakeholder Events

HHS/Health Resources and Services Administration – Telehealth – May 16-17

HRSA will hold a virtual national telehealth conference on Monday, May 16 and Tuesday, May 17.  Over the course of two days, experts and leaders in the field will examine the evolution of telehealth, discuss its place in an overall, integrated health care delivery model, and review the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform the future of telehealth.  To learn more about the conference, see its agenda, and register to participate, go here.

CDC – Clinical Recommendations for Adenovirus Testing and Reporting of Children with Acute Hepatitis of Unknown Etiology – May 19

Through its “Clinical Outreach and Communication Activity” program, the CDC will hold a webinar on clinical recommendations for adenovirus testing and reporting of children with acute hepatitis of unknown etiology on Thursday, May 19 at 2:00 (eastern).  For information about the medical issue, the webinar’s presenters, and how to participate, go here.

CDC – Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – May 19

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice will meet virtually on Thursday, May 19 at 11:00 (eastern).  The agenda will include discussions on the use of COVID-19 vaccines and a recommendation vote(s) is scheduled.  Learn more about the meeting, its agenda, how to submit written comments, and how to participate, see this Federal Register notice.

CDC – Board of Scientific Counselors, Center for Preparedness and Response – June 1 and 2

The Board of Scientific Counselors of the CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response will meet virtually on Wednesday, June 1 at 1:00 p.m. and Tuesday, June 2 at 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. (eastern).  This board is charged with providing advice and guidance to the Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services, the Assistant Secretary for Health, the Director of the CDC, and the Director of the Center for Preparedness and Response concerning strategies and goals for the programs and research within the Center for Preparedness and Response, monitoring its overall strategic direction and focus, and administration and oversight of peer review for its scientific programs.  Learn more about the board, the agenda for the meetings, and how to participate from this Federal Register notice.

CDC – Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee – June 2

The CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) will meet virtually on Thursday, June 2 at 12:00 p.m. (eastern).  This virtual meeting is open to the public, limited only by the number of audio and web conference lines (300 audio and web conference lines are available).  Time will be available for public comment and registration is required.  Learn more about the work of the committee and how to join the meeting from this Federal Register notice.

CMS – Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System Public Meetings – June 7-June 10

CMS will hold virtual Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System public meetings on June 7 through June 10 from 9:00-5:00 (eastern) each day to discuss its preliminary coding, Medicare benefit category, and payment determinations for new revisions to the HCPCS Level II code set and to discuss preliminary Medicare benefit category and payment determinations for codes effective January 1, 2020 to April 1, 2022; continuous glucose monitor and related supplies and accessories coding and payment determinations; and additional items added by CMS to address Medicare benefit category or payment determinations.  Learn more about the meetings, how to register to speak, and how to join the meetings from this Federal Register notice.

CDC – Community Preventive Services Task Force – June 8-9

The CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force will meet virtually on Wednesday, June 8 and Thursday, June 9 beginning at 10:00 (eastern) on both days.  The task force works to identify community preventive programs, services, and policies that increase health, longevity, save lives and dollars, and improve Americans’ quality of life, and during its meetings it considers the findings of systematic reviews of existing research and practice-based evidence and issues recommendations.  Individuals interested in participating must register to do so and then will receive information about how to join the meeting.  Find the meeting’s agenda and registration information in this Federal Register notice.

HHS – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Advisory Committee for Women’s Services – June 14

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Advisory Committee for Women’s Services will meet virtually on Tuesday, June 14 at 12:30 (eastern).  The meeting will include discussions on assessing SAMHSA’s current strategies, including the mental health and substance use needs of women and girls.  In addition, the committee will be addressing priorities regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the behavioral health needs of women and children and directions around behavioral health services and access for women and children.  Interested persons may present data, information, or views, orally or in writing, on issues pending before the committee.  Learn more about the meeting agenda, how to submit comments, and how to join the meeting from this Federal Register notice.

CMS – The Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility and Long-Term Care Hospital Updated Guidance Virtual Training Program – June 15-16

CMS will present virtual training to review the updated guidance for the Inpatient Rehabilitation Facility – Patient Assessment Instrument (IRF-PAI) 4.0 and the LTCH Continuity Assessment Record and Evaluation (CARE) Data Set (LCDS) 5.0 for providers in the IRF and LTCH settings.  This training is part of the agency’s effort to ensure that IRF and LTCH providers understand and can comply with changes in reporting requirements associated with the IRF and LTCH quality reporting programs that go into effect on October 1, 2022.  A major focus of this training will be on the cross-setting implementation of the standardized patient assessment data elements being introduced in 2022 to ensure more consistent reporting and evaluation across post-acute-care settings.  The training will consist of two parts.

  • Beginning May 9, CMS will offer recorded training videos that deliver foundational knowledge necessary to understand the new items and guidance.  These videos are intended to be reviewed in advance of the live event.
  • On June 15–16, CMS will conduct live, virtual workshops to provide coding practice on the items covered in the Part 1 videos.  These live sessions will take place each day between 1:00 and 5:00 (eastern).

This event is now at capacity and is closed to new participants.  All training materials and videos will be made available on the CMS website.

HHS – National Vaccine Advisory Committee – June 15-16

The National Vaccine Advisory Committee will meet in person on Wednesday, June 15 and Thursday June 16 at 9:00.  The meeting will be open to the public and public comment will be heard during the meeting.  Once available, meeting times, agendas, and registration information will be posted here.  Learn more about the committee and the meeting from this Federal Register notice.

NIH – Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council – June 23

The NIH’s Office of AIDS Research Advisory Council will meet virtually at noon (eastern) on Thursday, June 23.  The meeting’s agenda includes a report from the director of the Office of AIDS Research; an update from that office’s clinical guidelines working groups; updates from the NIH’s HIV-related advisory councils; presentations and discussions on data science and NIH-wide programs and initiatives; and public comment.  Learn more about how to submit comments and participate in this meeting from this Federal Register notice.