- The Trump administration Sunday announced it would expediting Medicare payments to help U.S. hospitals and doctor's offices manage flagging finances brought on by the coronavirus outbreak for the duration of the public health emergency.
- CMS advances Medicare payments in emergency situations like natural disasters or to address cash flow issues when there's a disruption in claims submission or processing, based on historical payments to a Medicare provider.
- CMS also asked hospitals to report COVID-19 testing data to HHS, along with daily reporting on bed capacity and supplies to the Centers for Disease Control, to try to better track disease progression. The administration has been widely criticized for what's seen as an uncoordinated response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus outbreak has surged in the U.S. in recent days, exposing gaping holes in an already overtaxed healthcare system and threatening to bankrupt providers, especially small, independent ones. Hospitals have been asked to halt all non-essential elective surgeries to shore up resources for COVID-19, removing a lucrative source of income for providers as the novel coronavirus has infected more than 143,000 people in the U.S. and killed more than 2,500 as of Monday morning.
CMS' actions over the weekend to more quickly get Medicare payments to providers to bolster their finances come days after President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package meant to get the U.S. economy moving again. The so-called CARES Act, which made changes allowing CMS to expand which providers qualify for the accelerated traditional fee-for-service Medicare payments, benchmarks some $100 billion for hospitals, though it's not entirely clear how the money will be apportioned.
"With our nation's health care providers on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19, dollars and cents shouldn't be adding to their worries," CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. CMS last made the advance payments available to providers during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.
The Trump administration has taken a number of steps over the past few weeks to try to lower regulatory burden on hospitals and health systems ahead of an expected influx of COVID-19 patients. Along with expanding traditional Medicare to cover virtual care visits, CMS extended the deadlines for quality reporting and provider applications for value-based care programs, waived COVID-19 cost sharing in Medicare Advantage and Part D and approved a slew of state Medicaid waivers to free up funds to fight the fast-moving virus.
The advanced payments can be requested by hospitals, doctors, medical device suppliers or any other Medicare Part A and Part B providers that meet certain qualifications, including not being bankrupt or having outstanding Medicare overpayments. The accelerated payments are relatively rare under normal circumstances — CMS processed only 115 accelerated/advance payment requests over the past five years, a spokesperson told Healthcare Dive.
Most providers will be able to request up to 100% of their Medicare payment amount for a three month period, according to CMS. Inpatient acute care hospitals, certain cancer facilities and children's hospitals will be able to request up to 100% of the amount for half a year, while critical access hospitals can request up to 125% of the payment for half a year.
Sunday, the administration also requested the nation's nearly 4,700 hospitals share their COVID-19 test results directly with the federal government, in order to better triage hospitals' needs nationwide. The White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, had not previously collected COVID-19 data from hospital labs that do thousands of in-house tests each day.
Private and commercial labs like giants LapCorp and Quest Diagnostics already report that data to HHS and the CDC.