Senate Committees Moving on Opioid Legislation
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
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
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
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
On Thursday, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 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
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
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
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
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
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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Medicare Payment Rule Finalized
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently released Final Rule Year 2 (Performance Year 2018) of Medicare’s Quality Payment Program (QPP) under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). The QPP, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, includes two paths to payment for eligible clinicians who bill Medicare using the Physician Fee Schedule: The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (Advanced APMs). Performance in the QPP each year impacts payments two years later; in other words, performance in 2018 will impact Medicare Part B payments in 2020. By moving from volume-based payment to payment for quality and value, both systems change the way behavioral health providers are reimbursed under Medicare Part B.
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October 1 Deadline to Attest for Medicare EHR
Mark your calendars: all eligible professionals (EPs) who are first time participants in the Medicare electronic health records (EHR) incentive program must attest by October 1, 2017 to avoid a negative payment adjustment in 2018. EPs who do not successfully demonstrate meaningful use for the 2017 reporting period will receive reduced Medicare payments for that year.
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National Council Submits Comments on New Medicare Payment Rule
Last week, the National Council submitted comments to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) on a proposed rule that will make changes to Medicare’s Quality Payment Program (QPP) in 2018. The QPP, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, includes two paths to payment for eligible clinicians who bill Medicare using the Physician Fee Schedule: The Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), and Advanced Alternative Payment Models (APMs). By moving from volume-based payment to payment for quality and value, both systems change the way behavioral health providers are reimbursed under Medicare Part B.
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Bipartisan House Bill Aims to Expand Medicare Coverage for Mental Health Services
A new bipartisan House bill would create greater access to mental health care in rural communities across the country. The bill – the Mental Health Access Improvement Act (H.R. 3032) – 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 support of the National Council.
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CMS Proposes New Medicare Payment Rule
Last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule that will make changes to the Quality Payment Program (QPP) under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). The Quality Payment Program is part of a larger effort to reform the way clinicians are reimbursed by Medicare by moving from volume-based payment to payment for quality and value. The proposed rule describes how clinician participation in QPP will change in 2018 and beyond. The proposal will take effect on January 1, 2018 and will apply to 2020 Medicare Part B reimbursements. The vast majority of behavioral health organizations that bill Medicare Part B will be subject to these changes in 2017 and 2018.
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Senate Confirms Seema Verma as CMS Administrator
On Monday evening, the Senate confirmed Seema Verma as the next Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Ms. Verma – best known for her work on Medicaid issues and her close ties to Vice President Mike Pence – designed Indiana’s Medicaid expansion model known as Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. As leader of CMS, Ms. Verma will work closely with HHS Secretary Tom Price to oversee and implement any major health care measures that Congress passes.
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Trump Announces Picks to Lead HHS, CMS
Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump tapped Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Indiana-based health care consultant, Seema Verma, as the next administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Congressman Price has been a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act and is likely to be a key player in any “repeal and replace” efforts from the 115th Congress.
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Senate Finance Bill Would Expand Telehealth in Medicare
A draft bill out of the Senate Finance Committee would expand payments from Medicare for telehealth and telemedicine services. The CHRONIC Care Act draft, long in the works by the Committee, improves chronic disease care for Medicare beneficiaries and would include provisions to expand access to telehealth services for Medicare Advantage enrollees
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Medicare Part D Prescriber Enrollment Requirement Delayed
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced this week that it is delaying the February 1, 2017 deadline for Medicare Part D prescribers to enroll in the Medicare program. CMS now expects full enforcement of enrollment to take effect on January 1, 2019. CMS aims to begin targeted enrollment of prescribers in the spring of 2017.
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CMS Finalizes Medicare Payment Rule
On Friday, October 14th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) rule, which makes sweeping reforms to how physicians are paid under Medicare Part B. The final rule will apply to the vast majority of eligible behavioral health providers when MACRA goes into effect in 2017 and includes several positive changes made in response to the National Council’s written comments.
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