COVID-19 Briefs: Relief Bill with $200M for CMS Survey Work Becomes Law, MIT Identifies High-Risk Nursing Homes

The House of Representatives on Friday passed a $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that contains $200 million for the federal government’s infection-focused inspections of nursing homes — while otherwise mostly passing skilled nursing facilities by.

President Trump signed the bill into law later Friday afternoon.

The bill, known as the CARES Act, set aside that extra funding as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has made infection-control surveys of nursing homes its top priority, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 deaths at a facility in Kirkland, Wash.

Advertisement

“The bill includes $200 million for CMS to assist nursing homes with infection control and support states’ efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus in nursing homes,” according to a summary released earlier this week by the office of Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

The legislation also created a general $100 billion fund to support Medicare and Medicaid health care providers, while temporarily lifting the blanket 2% sequestration cut on Medicare fee-for-service reimbursements in effect since 2013.

But other post-acute and long-term care industries received specific boosts under the CARES Act — particularly the home health space, which saw increased support for telehealth and the long-awaited relaxation of rules regarding the types of practitioners who can certify patients for in-home care.

The legislation passed the Senate Wednesday by a vote of 96-0; the House approved the bill by voice vote.

MIT Researchers Create Nursing Home Risk Assessment Tool

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a detailed COVID-19 assessment tool that provides a specific risk score for nursing homes in each ZIP code around the country.

A pair of professors at MIT’s Sloan School of Business — Simon Johnson and Retsef Levi — developed the tool, along with an accompanying interactive map, as part of the university’s COVID-19 Policy Alliance.

“This is a war, and in order to win a war you need coordination and intelligence,” Levi told our sister publication, Senior Housing News, of the battle to stem the tide of coronavirus infections.

The MIT team used publicly available data from CMS, including facilities’ performance history on infection control and other safety metrics, to calculate the scores; the interactive map tool also provides information about the number of available post-acute and long-term care beds within each ZIP code.

The COVID-19 Policy Alliance’s goal, Johnson told Senior Housing News, is not to single out specific operators or buildings for past mistakes, but rather to provide a more data-driven approach to the COVID-19 work being done on the ground.

“Our aim is to be helpful,” Johnson said.

Number of State Medicaid Waivers Grows to 34

The federal government as of Friday afternoon had approved Medicaid 1135 waivers for 34 states, granting providers a range of flexibilities when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though the exact content of the waivers varies, many states have already won the right to continue sending Medicaid reimbursements to providers who must evacuate to alternate care sites, while also offering quick approvals of practitioners across state lines and eliminating some nursing home assessment requirements.

Prior authorization rules have also been temporarily suspended in many states under the 1135 waivers.

The most recent crop of approved states consists of New York, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming.

CMS maintains a full list of all states that have received Medicaid waivers, along with the specific terms of each; administrator Seema Verma has pledged to expedite the processing of such applications from states that have not yet received waivers.