Washington Watch Weekly - July 10, 2020 | ASCRS
Washington Watch

Washington Watch Weekly - July 10, 2020

ASCRS Joins the AMA and the Medical Community in Requesting HHS Use its Authority Under the Public Health Emergency Declaration to Waive Budget Neutrality for E/M Changes Effective January 1, 2021

ASCRS joined the AMA and the medical community in a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar requesting the agency use its authority under the public health emergency declaration to waive budget neutrality for the changes for the new Medicare office visit payment policy (Evaluation and Management (E/M) codes) scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2021. Due to budget neutrality, many specialties, including ophthalmology, will face 2021 payment cuts, and we are arguing that reductions, particularly at this time during the pandemic, are unacceptable and not sustainable.

ASCRS continues to work with the Surgical Coalition, the Alliance of Specialty Medicine, and the AMA and the medical community to include a provision in the next COVID-19 package to waive budget neutrality. ASCRS is also working with the AAO in an effort to increase the post-op visits in the 10- and 90-day global surgical codes.

Public Health Emergency Expected to be Extended

In late June, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spokesperson Michael Caputo indicated that officials are planning to renew the public health emergency, which expires on June 25. HHS Secretary Alex Azar officially declared a public health emergency on January 31 and renewed it on April 21. Public health emergency declarations need to be renewed every 90 days.

Congress Aims for Next COVID-19 Package by August Recess

Negotiations on the next round of virus relief are ongoing and are expected to begin in earnest when the Senate returns from recess on July 20. There is a consensus among Republicans that the next piece of coronavirus legislation should prioritize COVID-19 testing and vaccine research and address expanded unemployment benefits (which expire at the end of July). Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) is taking the lead on drafting the proposal for the health care aspects of the bill. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) is drafting liability limits for the legislation, which are expected to be released later this month. Cornyn’s provisions would allow employers to pick which government guidelines they follow in order to be protected against lawsuits if their employees or customers contract the virus. Senate Republicans have indicated that they are willing to spend approximately $1 trillion total on an additional stimulus plan.

Senators Urge HHS to Provide Congress with Details on Medicare Rules Governing Telehealth

On July 2, a bipartisan letter, led by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), and signed by 38 Senators, was sent to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requesting that HHS provide Congress with a written plan and timeline about any potential changes to the Medicare rules governing telehealth. The agency used its waiver authority under the public health emergency declaration to expand telehealth services and increase payment. The letter requests that HHS and CMS continue to work with Congress to provide transparency with their plans for the future of telehealth, and specifically requested that they provide Congress with a list of telehealth changes that will require congressional action.

ASCRS Joins Alliance of Specialty Medicine in Urging Congress to Provide Additional Liability Protections for Physicians

On July 1, the Alliance of Specialty Medicine sent a letter to congressional leadership urging that Congress provide additional medical liability protections for physicians in the next legislative response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PPP Application Deadline Extended

On Saturday, July 4, the President signed into law S. 4116, which extends the application deadline for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through August 8. The bill passed both chambers with bipartisan support. The bill includes no substantive policy changes to the PPP beyond the date extension to August 8. While the program technically closed to new applications on June 30, participating banks should be able to start processing applications again. Approximately $130 billion remains in unspent money under the PPP. Lawmakers are still negotiating what adjustments should be made to the program in the next phase of pandemic relief.

CARES Act Provider Relief Fund Webpage, Portal, and FAQs Updated

The CARES Act Provider Relief Fund webpage and portal have been updated, along with the FAQs. Of note are the return of payments and audit requirements, which are included below:

What is HHS doing with payments that are returned to the Provider Relief Fund? (Added 6/30/2020)

HHS will allocate returned payments to future distributions of the Provider Relief Fund.

What are the audit requirements that need to be met to comply with Terms and Conditions of the Provider Relief Fund payments? (Added 6/30/2020)

HHS will have significant anti-fraud monitoring of the funds distributed, and the Office of Inspector General will provide oversight as required in the CARES Act to ensure that Federal dollars are used appropriately. HHS will notify recipients of applicable audit requirements in the coming weeks.

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