Meaningful Use Exemption, 21st Century Cures Movement, Opioid Updates, and More
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UPDATE: Meaningful Use Exemption Information Posted Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law S. 2425, the Patient Access and Medicare Protection Act (PAMPA), which was established with respect to the payment adjustment for 2017 and allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to consider hardship exceptions for categories of eligible professionals and hospitals in a new, more streamlined process. Importantly, the legislation requires that CMS provide a blanket hardship exemption from 2015 meaningful use penalties to all providers who ask for it. Late last month, CMS released the details on applying for the hardship exemption. Click here to read more.
Senate Introduces Legislation to Improve EHRs The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee this month released a draft of a health information technology (IT) bill aimed at achieving interoperability and addressing information blocking. The draft is also meant to spur the flow of patient records and improve the usability of Electronic Health Records (EHRs). Specifically, it gives the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General the power to investigate and punish information blocking and requires a public-private collaborative to make recommendations on cutting red tape for physicians.

“Health information moving seamlessly among doctors and hospitals is vital for the future of medicine and essential to improving patient care,” stated HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “The committee has been working for months on legislation to help improve electronic health records, and it involves especially technical work to get this right, which is why our committee looks forward to feedback on today’s draft from doctors, hospitals, health IT developers, and other experts in this area of health care.”

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Alexander Announces Markups on Senate Health Innovation Bill – Companion to 21st Century Cures The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee recently announced that parts of the 21st Century Cures legislation will undergo Senate markup in early February, marking a critical step toward moving forward companion legislation for the House-passed medical innovation bill. Unlike the House process, the HELP committee will move more incrementally by considering three rounds of individual bills rather than voting on a single piece of legislation. The first markup is scheduled for February 9, when lawmakers are expected to vote on bills on issues that range from electronic medical records to rare diseases.

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Opioid Discussions Continue

On January 19, 2016, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a field hearing in Jefferson City, Missouri addressing the dramatic rise in opioid abuse and overdose deaths. The hearing followed an announcement that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will lead a new interagency effort focused on addressing rural America’s struggle with heroin and opioid abuse as well as other pressing problems.

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What We’re Reading Drug Shortages Forcing Hard Decisions on Rationing Treatments, The New York Times, 1/29/16

On Cancer Moonshot, Time is Ticking for Biden, Roll Call, 1/28/16

Congress Should Act to Help Reduce Generic Drug Price Spikes, The Hill, 1/28/16

CMS Proposes Changes to ACO Benchmarks, Modern Healthcare, 1/28/16

Senate GOP Plots Next Steps on Opioid Epidemic, The Hill, 1/27/16

GOP Has a Core Consensus on Obamacare Replacement, Morning Consult, 1/25/16

Senate Committee Ideas on Improving IT Sound Familiar, Modern Healthcare, 1/21/16

Democratic Rift Spurs Questions about Obamacare’s Future, Politico, 1/19/16

Supreme Court Declines to Take Obamacare Challenge, Roll Call, 1/19/16

Senate Panel Punts on Big Medical Bill, Morning Consult, 1/19/16

Congressional Republicans Look to Revise Stark Law Recent reports indicate that the Senate Finance and the Ways and Means committees are considering updating federal anti-kickback statutes, including the Stark Law, to make them better fit the move toward alternative payment models (APMs). The Stark Law, which prevents doctors from referring patients to interests in which they have a financial relationship, currently contains an exception for in-office ancillary services (IOAS). This exception is essential to efficiently diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal conditions by allowing orthopaedic surgeons to provide imaging and physical therapy services in their offices.

But the congressional committees note that this exception might not be enough as changes are needed to harmonize the Stark Law with new payment schemes under the Medicare and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), which permanently repealed the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR). As the administration continues to emphasize delivery system reform, a loosening of Stark and other anti-kickback laws will be necessary so providers can work together in new Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) or other APMs. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has started some work to scale back the Stark Law as it affects delivery system reform – for example, the administration loosened some restrictions in November and offered waivers of the anti-kickback statutes to participants in more aggressive ACOs.

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