In brief: COVID-19 data, tax penalty on relief funds, oxygen shortages and review of NIV

 - 
Friday, June 26, 2020

WASHINGTON – Older Americans and those with chronic health conditions are at the highest risk for COVID-19, according to data released by CMS last week.

The data confirms long-understood disparities in health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority groups, and among low-income populations, the agency says.

“The disparities in the data reflect long-standing challenges facing minority communities and low income older adults, many of whom face structural challenges to their health that go far beyond what is traditionally considered ‘medical,’” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

More than 325,000 Medicare beneficiaries had a diagnosis of COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and May 16, 2020, according to the data. This translates to 518 cases per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

The data also shows that nearly 110,000 Medicare beneficiaries were hospitalized for COVID-19 related treatment—175 hospitalizations per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Blacks were hospitalized with COVID-19 at a rate nearly four times higher than whites.

CMS typically releases Medicare claims information on an annual basis, when there are more complete claims and encounter data. However, as part of its efforts to provide data transparency during the pandemic and ensure the public has this vital information as soon as it is available, the agency is releasing this preliminary data now. CMS will update the data on a monthly basis, as more claims and encounter records are received.

Other data highlighted by CMS:

  • End-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients had the highest rate of hospitalization among all Medicare beneficiaries, with 1,341 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries. Patients with ESRD are also more likely to have chronic co-morbidities associated with increased COVID-19 complications and hospitalization, such as diabetes and heart failure.
  • The second highest rate was among beneficiaries enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid (also known as “dual eligible”), with 473 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries.
  • Among racial/ethnic groups, Blacks had the highest hospitalization rate, with 465 per 100,000. Hispanics had 258 hospitalizations per 100,000. Asians had 187 per 100,000 and whites had 123 per 100,000.
  • Beneficiaries living in rural areas have fewer cases and were hospitalized at a lower rate than those living in urban/suburban areas (57 versus 205 hospitalizations per 100,000).


Tax-paying providers lose 21%, organizations say

WASHINGTON – AAHomecare has joined 17 other health care organizations in sending a letter to Congress asking them to fix a tax penalty embedded in the CARES Act.

The organizations say, without a correction, tax-paying health care providers lose at least 21% of the benefit of relief funds related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clawing back one-fifth of the CARES Act relief will only magnify pressures for the HME community and other health care providers,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare. “Congress has provided welcome relief to help offset revenue losses and higher costs that the entire health care continuum is currently experiencing. Even so, many providers are still facing severe financial impacts as a result of the crisis.”

The coalition is asking Congress to ensure: that Provider Relief Funds and similar funding provided in response to COVID-19 are not taxable; and that entities receiving these funds maintain tax deductions attributable to these funds.

The coalition is made up of AAHomecare and these health care organizations:

  • Ambulatory Surgery Center Association
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • American Association for Homecare
  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners
  • American College of Physicians
  • American Dental Association
  • American Hospital Association
  • American Medical Association
  • American Nurses Association
  • American Occupational Therapy Association
  • American Optometric Association
  • American Physical Therapy Association
  • Federation of American Hospitals
  • National Association for Behavioral Healthcare
  • National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
  • Premier Healthcare Alliance
  • Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association


AAHomecare sees increased support

WASHINGTON – AAHomecare says it has seen a strong increase in the number of companies supporting the association at the corporate partner level.

American Medical Technologies joined the association in March as a platinum corporate partner, and Apria Healthcare and McKesson have both increased their support to that level, bringing the total number of platinum corporate partners to seven.

“We appreciate the investment that every one of our members is making in AAHomecare,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO. “Hundreds of companies, large and small, are making a significant financial commitment, contributing time and expertise to serve on association councils, and lending their passionate support to advocacy efforts at the federal and state level. This support has helped us secure important wins for the industry and has positioned us to fight for more in the months ahead.”

AeroCare, AdaptHealth, National Seating & Mobility, Rotech Healthcare and Ventec Life Systems have also increased their support to the silver corporate partner level. Aeroflow, Hollister, Invacare and SuperCare Health have joined the corporate partner program at the bronze level.

Other companies that have increased their dues commitment to AAHomecare in 2020: Active Healthcare, Blanchard Valley Health System, Brevard Medical Equipment, BrittKare Home Medical, Camhi Compliance Consulting, Commonwealth Home Health Care, First Quality Products, Hub’s Home Oxygen & Medical Supplies/CressCare Medical, Leading Respiratory Services, Merits Health Products, Nestle Healthcare Nutrition, Prism Medical Products, Prochant, Soundview Medical Supply and XMED.

“I believe this support is a validation of the dollars we’ve helped put back in suppliers’ and manufacturers’ pockets over the last several years, as well as the gains we’ve made through our growing payer relations program and in delivering better regulatory policies,” Ryan said. “We’ve accomplished a lot, but we still have a long way to go. I hope other HME companies will look at our achievements, especially those we’ve helped deliver in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and help provide even more fuel for our efforts to secure better public policy for this industry.”

CMS bolsters efforts to reduce burdens

WASHINGTON – CMS has created the Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics to unify the agency’s efforts to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens.

The new office is an outgrowth of the agency’s Patients over Paperwork Initiative, part of its efforts to implement President Trump’s 2017 executive order to “Cut the Red Tape” and eliminate duplicative, unnecessary and costly requirements and regulations.

“The Office of Burden Reduction and Health Informatics will ensure the agency’s commitment to reduce administrative costs and enact meaningful and lasting change in our nation’s health care system,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Specifically, the work of this new office will be targeted to help reduce unnecessary burden, increase efficiencies, continue administrative simplification, increase the use of health informatics, and improve the beneficiary experience.”

The new office will strengthen CMS’s efforts across Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Health Insurance Marketplace to decrease the hours and costs clinicians and providers incur for CMS-mandated compliance.

It will take a proactive approach to reducing burden, carefully considering the impact of new regulations on health care system operations.

The office will also increase the number of clinicians, providers, and health plans the agency engages to ensure that CMS has a better understanding of how various regulatory burdens impact health care delivery.

CMS reviews NIV therapy for chronic respiratory failure

WASHINGTON – CMS on July 22 will conduct a virtual Medicare Evidence Development & Coverage Advisory Committee meeting to review the evidence specific to the home use of non-invasive ventilators by patients with chronic respiratory failure consequent to COPD. The agency seeks the committee’s recommendations on the characteristics that define patient selection and usage criteria, and concomitant services, as well as the equipment parameters necessary to best achieve positive patient health outcomes in beneficiaries with CRF consequent to COPD. MEDCAC doesn’t make coverage determinations, but CMS says it benefits from their advice.

WHO warns of oxygen shortage

GENEVA, Switzerland – The World Health Organization is warning of a shortage of oxygen concentrators as the number of cases of COVID-19 increases around the globe. The WHO says the world needs about 620,000 cubic meters of oxygen a day—about 88,000 large cylinders—to treat the roughly 1 million new cases being reported worldwide each week, Gasworld reports. “Many countries are now experiencing difficulties in obtaining oxygen concentrators,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a media briefing. “Eighty percent of the market is owned by just a few companies and demand is currently outstripping supply.” The WHO says it has bought 14,000 oxygen concentrators to send to 120 countries in the coming weeks, Gasworld reports. It has identified another 170,000 oxygen concentrators that can be available over the next six months.

Apria marks 25th anniversary

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – Apria Healthcare is celebrating 25 years in business. The company was formed in 1995, when two U.S. home health care companies, Homedco Group and Abbey Healthcare, were combined. Over the years, Apria says it has provided equipment and services to patients in disaster-struck areas, demonstrated its commitment to veterans and military spouses through hiring programs, and initiated green earth projects to salvage repair parts and recycle scrap metal on unusable equipment. “During floods, wildfires, hurricanes and now a pandemic, Apria has a proud tradition of delivering much-needed respiratory and home medical equipment to its patients, regardless of circumstances,” said Dan Starck, CEO. Apria’s more than 6,500 employees provide equipment and services to more than 1.8 million patients each year through 275 local branch offices across the United States.

New app supports users in selecting manual wheelchairs

NEW YORK – The United Spinal Association and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh have co-developed a new app that informs and encourages consumers and their families to play an active role in buying, using and maintaining their manual wheelchairs. “As a national nonprofit serving people with spinal cord injuries and disorders, we know how important having a properly fitted manual wheelchair is in pursuing a healthy, active and independent lifestyle,” said James Weisman, president and CEO of United Spinal Association. The “My Wheelchair Guide” app includes tools and resources to guide consumers through the wheelchair selection, delivery and maintenance process. It also provides practical information to evaluate each individual’s medical and functional needs, whether they’re a beginner or advanced wheelchair user. The app features self-assessment and maintenance checklists; customizable to-do lists; wheelchair skills videos; illustrations on wheelchair types, parts and accessories; critical health considerations; an organized hub that integrates the contacts essential to getting a wheelchair; and a Q&A section. The app is supported through a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. It’s available for download from Google Play and the Apple app store by searching “MWG Manual.” The app is being distributed with support from The Clinician Task Force, NCART, NRRTS and RESNA.

Compass Health finds ‘right partner’ to offer CBD

CLEVELAND – Compass Health has signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Well Care Brands to promote and sell their PürCare line of CBD products. The partnership with Compass Health will allow Well Care Brands to target the HME segment for their PürCare line, which is specifically designed for the “over 40 market.” “We have been eager to enter the CBD segment of the market but needed to find the right partner, a partner who understands the unique needs of both the HME patient and provider,” said Mike Scarsella, vice president of HME for Compass Health. Well Care Brands says it partnered with Compass Health due to its “incredibly strong position in the HME industry,” says Gregory Zenko, founder and CEO of Well Care Brands. “Compass’ strong market position in HME, physical rehabilitation, chiropractic and traditional retail makes them the perfect partner,” he said. Well Care Brands says it is the first and only brand to offer an aerosol sublingual oral mist delivery system that provides a “metered dose” of full spectrum CBD in a nano particle format.

NHIF releases industry trends report

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Home and specialty infusion represents a $19 billion industry serving more than 3.2 million patients annually, according to the National Home Infusion Foundation’s Infusion Industry Trend 2020 report. The report, available for sale in print format, offers insight into the latest trends in the home and specialty infusion market, and interprets data collected from more than 220 individual provider locations. “This comprehensive report takes a deep-dive into the current state of home and specialty infusion and explores what the future holds for this growing segment of post-acute care,” said NHIA President & CEO Connie Sullivan. The report provides insight into provider characteristics, services, patient characteristics, payer sources, referral sources and operations, and describes how the industry has evolved over the last decade. It also identifies market trends, such as changes in therapy mix, growth rates of traditional and specialty home infusion therapies, infusion site utilization, payer trends and reimbursement models, staffing ratios and salary expenses.

Study: Increase physical activity, decrease risk of OSA
DARIEN, Ill. – Increased physical activity is associated with a lower risk of obstructive sleep apnea, according to a study published online as an accepted paper in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.  Researchers reviewed lifestyle, medical, socio-demographic and sleep health data collected from more than 155,000 adults participating in the Ontario Health Study. Based on the physical activity of participants with and without sleep apnea, the investigators determined that a modest increase in physical activity, including walking, is associated with a 10% reduction in the risk of developing sleep apnea. “Our results highlight the importance of physical activity as a preventative measure against developing sleep apnea,” said senior author Lyle Palmer, who is a professor of genetic epidemiology at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “One surprising finding was that not only vigorous physical activity but also just walking alone was associated with a decreased risk of sleep apnea.” The authors found that adding 20 minutes to a daily walk and increasing vigorous daily activity by eight minutes would be enough to achieve a lower sleep apnea risk. The findings are independent of other known risk factors for sleep apnea, such as sex, age, ethnicity and obesity.

Low rates in effect for Medtrade
ATLANTA – SmartSaver rates are in effect for Medtrade, Nov. 2-4 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, through Aug. 14. Under SmartSaver rates, an expo pass is $30 and a conference pass is $119, significant savings. “In recognition of an undeniably tough first six months to start off 2020, the SmartSaver rate window is longer this year,” says Mark Lind, show director, Medtrade. “We’ve done a lot of virtual communicating over the last few months, and it’s still our hope that a safe Medtrade will be the perfect place to recharge your knowledge and find the products that will propel your business.” Go here to register.

People news: Change Healthcare
Change Healthcare has announced that Bansi Nagji, president, health care at GoodRx, and former executive vice president and chief strategy and business development office at McKesson, has been appointed to its board of directors. With the addition of Nagji, the board now has 10 directors, nine of whom are independent. Prior to his positions at GoodRx and McKesson, Nagji was a principal at Deloitte Consulting. He also served on the board of Deloitte from 2013-15. Prior to that, he was with Monitor Group, a global strategy consulting firm, for 20 years, where he was a senior partner and president when the firm merged with Deloitte.

Short take: NEMEP
Save the date: The Northeast Medical Equipment Providers Association has announced it will hold a virtual conference the week of Sept. 28. The association was forced to postpone its spring conference due to the coronavirus outbreak. “Since having to postpone our April meeting, NEMEP has been working to keep you updated on critical issues and to determine the best way to serve our members,” the association stated in an email bulletin. “For 2020, the best solution is to hold a virtual conference, and NEMEP is working on the schedule of speakers to offer the sessions that were planned for April.” NEMEP plans to host one or two sessions each day the week of Sept. 28. A schedule is coming soon.