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Archive: Medicare

Capitol Connector
Your source for the latest updates from Capitol Hill. We translate policy into practice so you can learn how policy trends will affect your work and how best to prepare.

Congress Seeks to Address Rising Health Care Costs

May 30, 2019 | Drug Pricing | Medicare | Comments
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Shelley Starkey

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

Both the House and Senate have released bipartisan proposals in the last week to lower out-of-pocket health care costs across the country. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee has released a sweeping proposal to address surprise medical billing, increase transparency within the health care industry, and bring down drug costs. Meanwhile, leaders of the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees are seeking input on draft legislation to cap out-of-pocket costs under Medicare Part D, the program’s prescription drug benefit.

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Finalized Rule from CMS Preserves Medicare’s Six Protected Classes

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Shelley Starkey

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule on Thursday aimed at addressing rising drug prices and out-of-pocket expenses under Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage. Notably, the final rule did not include previously-proposed measures that would have provided exceptions to Medicare’s “six protected classes,” a policy that ensures beneficiaries with complex health conditions, including mental illness, have access to a full range of medication treatment options. The announcement comes after six months of opposition to the proposals from Members of Congress and patient and provider advocates, including the National Council for Behavioral Health.

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New Legislation Enhances Medicare Mental Health Workforce

January 31, 2019 | Medicare | Workforce | Comments
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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

New bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate would create greater access to mental health care, particularly for rural areas. The bill – the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (H.R. 945/S. 286) – would allow marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and licensed mental health counselors to directly bill Medicare for their services. Similar legislation has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress and again has the strong support of the National Council.

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CMS Releases 2020 Medicare Advantage and Part D Draft Call Letter

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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

On Thursday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D draft call letter for 2020, which outlines changes to Medicare plan policies and payments each year.

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CMS Urges Efforts to Improve Care for Dually Eligible Population

January 3, 2019 | Medicaid | Medicare | Quality | Comments
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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Late last month, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma sent a letter to state Medicaid directors describing ways states can improve care and reduce burdens for individuals who are dually-eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. This population of individuals tends to have complex medical and behavioral health needs and accounts for a disproportionate share of federal spending for both programs. The letter outlines ten opportunities for states to improve care for the dually-eligible population in 2019.

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CMS Finalizes Changes to Medicare Quality Payment Program

December 6, 2018 | Medicare | Quality | Comments
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Mindy Klowden

Director,Training and Technical Assistance

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued final policy changes for Year 3 (2019) of the Quality Payment Program (QPP), as part of the final 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule rule. The final rule updates payment rates and key policies applicable to physicians and other professionals under Medicare. Most notably, the rule expands the types of clinicians (including clinical psychologists) that are eligible to participate in the QPP through the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

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CMS Finalizes Changes to Medicare Physician Payment and Quality Policies

November 8, 2018 | Medicare | Quality | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final rule for the 2019 payment year under Medicare. The rule finalizes policies around reducing provider burden, increasing electronic health record (EHR) interoperability, coverage expansions for telehealth, virtual care, and substance use disorder treatment. Notably, CMS decided to modify its original proposal to significantly change the payment and documentation requirements for traditional outpatient, office-based visits by modifying some elements to address concerns raised by provider groups like the National Council and other stakeholders.

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National Council Submits Comments on Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Rule

September 13, 2018 | Medicare | Workforce | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

This week the National Council for Behavioral Health submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its proposed rules for the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS). The proposed rules update payment rates and key policies applicable to physicians and other professionals under Medicare. Among the key changes supported by the National Council were initiatives to reduce billing documentation requirements for Evaluation and Management (E/M) services, base reimbursement for office visits on the level of medical decision-making required, allow for same-day visits and create a bundled payment for the care and management of substance use disorders (SUD) in Medicare.

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CMS Proposes Overhaul of ACO Program

August 16, 2018 | Medicare | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

CMS is planning significant changes to a value-based payment model known as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in a sweeping rule proposed last week. The rule would give new ACOs just two years before they must start sharing savings and losses with the agency. The proposal has drawn criticism from hospital groups and ACO stakeholders, who say the plan will cause many ACOs to leave the program. Comments on the proposed rule are due by October 16, 2018.

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CMS Proposes Overhaul of Medicare Billing Standards

July 19, 2018 | Medicare | Quality | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its proposed rules for the 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (MPFS) and Quality Payment Program (QPP). The proposed rules update payment rates and key policies applicable to physicians and other professionals under Medicare. Among the key changes, the proposed rule would reduce billing documentation requirements, expand telehealth options and potentially create a bundled payment for the care and management of substance use disorders (SUD) in Medicare.

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Senate Committees Moving on Opioid Legislation

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Shelley Starkey

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

Following an action-packed week for opioid-related legislation in the House, multiple Senate committees took up the mantle this week, hosting hearings, releasing new bills and considering legislation ahead of the Memorial Day recess. As bills advance out of committees, the full Senate is expected to consider the large package of opioid legislation later this summer. Meanwhile, similar efforts in the House are expected to make it to the floor in the coming weeks. The collective work of both chambers of Congress seek to address the opioid crisis from a number of fronts including prevention, treatment and recovery.

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Ways & Means Advances Bipartisan Opioid Proposals

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Samantha Sears

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

The House Committee on Ways & Means Wednesday approved seven bipartisan bills aimed at reducing opioid misuse and abuse in Medicare. The package would expand Medicare coverage of medication-assisted treatment (MAT), promote non-opioid alternatives for pain management and require Part D plans to have drug management plans for Medicare beneficiaries at risk of opioid addiction. The bills now move to the House floor, joining dozens of other opioid-related bills approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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CBO Releases Economic Outlook, Future Health Care Spending Report

April 19, 2018 | Federal Budget | Medicaid | Medicare | Comments
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Samantha Sears

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects the country’s annual budget deficit will reach $1 trillion by 2020 in a new report released this week. The annual report was delayed this year to incorporate analysis on the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in late 2017. The report highlights not only growing deficits but also growing health care spending for programs like Medicare, Medicaid and social safety net programs.

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CMS Finalizes Medicare Changes, Tightens Opioid Policies

April 12, 2018 | Medicare | Comments
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Katiri Zuluaga

Manager, State Initiatives

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released final rules for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage (MA) plans for calendar year 2019 that are meant to tackle the opioid crisis and decrease drug costs. The CY19 Rate Announcement and Call Letter represents CMS’ priorities for the next year, and will implement new requirements on opioid prescribing and monitoring, require lower co-payments for prescription drugs under Part D, increase availability to generics and, hopefully, decrease costs for consumers and the federal government.

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Capitol Hill Briefing Highlights Adding MFTs and Counselors to Medicare

March 14, 2018 | Medicare | Workforce | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

On Thursday, the National Council for Behavioral Health, on behalf of the Medicare Access Coalition, hosted two congressional staff briefings on improving Medicare to better serve seniors with mental illness. The briefing featured community mental health professionals from Peak Wellness Center, who shared the challenges they face in finding Medicare-eligible providers to treat their older adult clients. The event highlighted pending bipartisan legislation that would expand the mental health workforce by adding marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and licensed professional counselors (LPCs) to the Medicare program.

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CMS Proposes Medicare Changes to Address Opioids

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Shelley Starkey

Policy & Advocacy Coordinator

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have released its proposed changes to Medicare Advantage and Part D plans for 2019, which include a few provisions to combat the opioid crisis. These changes come in reaction to the soaring opioid prescription and substance use disorder rates among Medicare beneficiaries. CMS is accepting public comments through March 5, and will publish its final rule on April 2.

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Senate Approves Azar as HHS Secretary

January 25, 2018 | ACA | Medicaid | Medicare | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

, National Council for Behavioral Health

The Senate voted to confirm former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday. Six Democrats and Independent Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined all but one Republican Senator in supporting Azar. As the nation’s top health official, Azar will oversee critical health programs like Medicaid and Medicare and take over the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Azar’s confirmation gives HHS its first permanent leader since September, when former Secretary Tom Price resigned due to a scandal regarding his use of public funds for travel.

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HHS Nominee Appears Before Senate Finance Committee

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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

The Senate Finance Committee held a confirmation hearing on Monday on the nomination of Alex Azar as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). This is the second hearing on his nomination Mr. Azar has participated in. In late 2017, he appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The Finance Committee will vote on his nomination in the coming weeks.

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What to Watch for in Health Care in 2018

January 4, 2018 | ACA | Federal Budget | Medicaid | Medicare | Comments
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Stephanie Pellitt

Policy and Advocacy Associate

Members of Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week following a holiday break. Neither chamber starts the new year with a clean slate, however, as Congress faces deadlines on government funding and a host of individual programs after voting to delay those decisions at the end of last month. Congress has less than three weeks to avert another government shutdown as well as sort through several competing health care priorities. Here is a preview of what to watch for in early 2018.

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Alex Azar Nominated to Lead HHS

November 16, 2017 | Medicaid | Medicare | Comments
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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Behavioral Health

President Trump, on Monday, nominated former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to be his next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, who spent most of the last decade at Eli Lilly and Co., previously served for six years in the George W Bush administration – first as General Counsel for four years and then as Deputy Secretary for two years under President George W. Bush. The Senate will consider his nomination later this month.

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