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COVID-19 in the News March 23rd through March 30th, 2021

Published on 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

 | Coding 

This week we highlight key updates spanning from March 23rd through the 30th of 2021.

March 24, 2021:  OIG Report – Hospitals Operating in Survival Mode

The OIG released the Report in Brief titled, Hospitals Reported That the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Significantly Strained Health Care Delivery. This report is a compilation of perspectives shared by front-line in hospital administrators at 320 hospitals nationwide during brief interviews conducted from February 22nd through the 26th of 2021. The OIG calls this process a “Pulse Survey.” The first Pulse Survey highlighting challenges hospitals are facing was conducted in March 2020. The OIG notes that “this pulse survey offers hospital administrators’ perspectives on the most significant strains that the response to COVID-19 has exerted on hospitals, as well as their perspectives on the longer-term implications of these strains.” The following list are examples of Hospital-Reported Challenges in this report:

  • Difficulty balancing the complex and resource-intensive care needs for COVID-19 patients with efforts resuming routine hospital care,
  • Staffing shortages have affected patient care,
  • Exhaustion and trauma have taken a toll on staff’s mental health, and
  • Challenges associated with vaccine distribution efforts and concerns about hesitancy to receive a vaccine.

March 24, 2021: FDA Consumer Update: Learn More About COVID-19 Vaccines from the FDA

In this Consumer Update, common questions about COVID-19 vaccines are answered by the FDA. The update also provides a link to a YouTube video providing four facts about COVID-19 vaccines.

March 25, 2021: COVID-19 Legislation Related to Sequestration Suspension

  • The Budget Control Act of 2011 included a 2.00% across-the-board sequestration reduction to Medicare Fee-for-Service claims payments.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act suspended this payment adjustment from May 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
  • Subsequently, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, signed into law on December 27, 2020, extended this suspension to March 31, 2021.
  • On March 19, 2021, the U.S. House passed House Resolution (HR) 1868, which would extend the sequestration suspension through December 31, 2021.
  • On March 25, 2021, the U.S. Senate passed Senate Amendment SA 1410 titled, Extension of Temporary Suspension of Medicare Sequestration. Similar to HR 1868, this Amendment extends the Sequestration suspension through December 31, 2021.

In the March 25, 2021 Senate Congressional Record discussion, Senator Shaheen (D-NH) noted in her remarks that “this week, I heard from Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, NH. They highlighted that this legislation would result in $2.1 million in desperately needed additional revenue for the hospitals…by passing a continued moratorium through 2021, Wentworth-Douglass will be in a better place to care for those in need and respond to any future crisis affecting the health of our community.”

The American Hospital Association (AHA) released a Special Bulletin in response to passage of the Senate bill. The AHA notes in the bulletin that “the House is expected to take up the Senate-passed bill the week of April 13 when it returns to Washington D.C. It is expected that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will hold the Medicare claims until the bill is signed into law as it has done in the past.”

March 26, 2021: COVID-19 Accelerated/Advance Payments (CAAPs) Recoupment Fast Approaching

Palmetto GBA, the Medicare Administrative Contractor for Jurisdictions J and M sent the following notice regarding CAAPs to those subscribed to receive emails:

“Providers and suppliers requesting and receiving COVID-19 Accelerated/Advance Payments (CAAPs) in 2020 will receive an email in the coming days reminding them that the recoup period is fast approaching. The emails are being issued to a provider or supplier designated CAAP point of contact.

Included in the email is a copy of the October 2020 reminder email that includes details regarding any CAAPs issued to that entity. Please note the amount due as listed on the October 2020 email attachment does not reflect any amount already refunded towards that balance. There is no need to call the provider contact center. Your current amount owed can be located in eServices’ Financial Tools tab, under Overpayment Data. No offset will begin occurring unless there is still an outstanding CAAP balance for the provider, supplier or an affiliated provider with the same tax identification number.  

Resource: Accelerated and Advance Payment Repayment & Recovery Frequently Asked Questions (October 8, 2020) (PDF, 45 KB)”

March 26, 2021: CMS to Resume Hospital Survey Activities

On January 20, 2021, CMS issued a memo limiting hospital surveys for 30 days “to ensure quality of care oversight while providing hospitals the ability to focus on serving their patients and communities.” The limitations were extended on February 18, 2021 for an additional 30 days through March 22, 2021. On March 26, 2021, CMS issued the Memorandum titled Resuming Hospital Survey Activities Following 30-Day Restrictions to inform State Survey Agency Directors with their plan to resume survey activities.

March 26, 2021: Department of Justice and COVID-19 Fraud

The Department of Justice published a notice detailing actions they have taken to combat COVID-19 related fraud. They note that as of March 26th:

  • 474 defendants have been publicly charged with criminal offenses for fraud related schemes connected to the COVID-19 pandemic,
  • Cumulatively, this represents attempts to obtain over $569 million from the U.S. government and unsuspecting individuals.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division following message is included in this announcement: “To anyone thinking of using the global pandemic as an opportunity to scam and steal from hardworking Americans, my advice is simple – don’t…no matter where you are or who you are, we will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

March 29, 2021: CDC Resource for Healthcare Providers: Caring for Patients at Higher Risks for Developing Severe Outcomes of COVID-19

The CDC has published this webpage specifically as an evidence-based resource for Healthcare Providers and notes that this page is distinct from the People with Certain Medical Conditions webpage which is intended for the general public. Following are examples of information shared on this webpage:

  • Age is the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes as people 65 years or older accounts for more than 80% of the U.S. COVID-19 related deaths.
  • Adults of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. This risk increases as the number of underlying medical conditions for a person increases.
  • The most common comorbidities, based on key findings from a retrospective study of 64,781 patients with COVID-19, includes:
  • 46.7% of the patients had hypertension (HTN),
  • 28.9% of the patient patients had a diagnosis of hyperlipidemia,
  • 27.9% of the patients were a diabetic, and
  • 16.1% of the patients had a chronic pulmonary condition.

March 29, 2021: CDC Study Confirms Protective Benefits of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines

The CDC announced in a Press Release the findings of a new study which “provides strong evidence that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections in real-world conditions among health care personnel, first responders, and other essential workers.”  Results among study participants revealed the following:

  • Following a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines the risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2 was reduced by 80% two or more weeks after vaccination, and
  • Following the second dose of vaccine, risk of infection was reduced by 90% two or more weeks after vaccination.

March 30, 2021: Special Edition MLN Connects: Temporary Claims Hold

CMS released the following notice in a Special Edition MLN Connects regarding the pending congressional action to extend the Sequestration Suspension:

“In anticipation of possible Congressional action to extend the 2% sequester reduction suspension, we instructed the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to hold all claims with dates of service on or after April 1, 2021, for a short period without affecting providers’ cash flow. This will minimize the volume of claims the MACs must reprocess if Congress extends the suspension; the MACs will automatically reprocess any claims paid with the reduction applied if necessary.”

Article Author: Beth Cobb, RN, BSN, ACM, CCDS
Beth Cobb, RN, BSN, ACM, CCDS, is the Manager of Clinical Analytics at Medical Management Plus, Inc. Beth has over twenty-five years of experience in healthcare including eleven years in Case Management at a large multi-facility health system. In her current position, Beth is a principle writer for MMP’s Wednesday@One weekly e-newsletter, an active member of our HIPAA Compliance Committee, MMP’s Education Department Program Director and co-developer of MMP’s proprietary Compliance Protection Assessment Tool.

This material was compiled to share information.  MMP, Inc. is not offering legal advice. Every reasonable effort has been taken to ensure the information is accurate and useful.