More on Reimbursement

UPDATED: Hospital groups to sue CMS over $1.6 billion cut to 340B payments

The final rule will also allow for higher payment when Medicare beneficiaries receive certain procedures in outpatient departments.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

Credit: <a href="">Matthew Bisanz</a>.Credit: Matthew Bisanz.

Several groups representing U.S. hospitals on Wednesday said they plan to sue the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over a hospital outpatient prospective payment system final rule released Wednesday that reduces what hospitals are paid under the 340B drug program.

The rule lowers the cost of prescription drugs for seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries by reducing the payment rate to hospitals for certain Medicare Part B drugs purchased through the 340B program. The existing rule would have paid hospitals 6 percent above the sale price of drugs, but the final rule instead pays hospitals 22.5 percent less than sale prices, amounting to a $1.6 billion cut.

The American Hospital AssociationAssociation of American Medical Colleges and America's Essential Hospitals said they will seek litigation to prevent the cuts.

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"CMS's decision in today's rule to cut Medicare payments to hospitals for drugs covered under the 340B program will dramatically threaten access to health care for many patients, including uninsured and other vulnerable populations," AHA Executive Vice President Tom Nickels said in a statement. "We strongly urge CMS to abandon its misguided 340B rule, and instead take direct action to halt the unchecked, unsustainable increases in the cost of drugs."

[Also: Proposed changes to 340B program would hurt nonprofit hospital margins, Moody's says]

America's Essential Hospitals CEO Bruce Siegel said the organization saw no reasonable rationale for diverting Medicare Part B reimbursement from hospitals in the 340B drug pricing program that are in the greatest need of support to providers not eligible for 340B discounts. CMS has no evidence that the policy will combat rising drug prices, he said.

"Congress clearly intended that the 340B program help hospitals that care for many vulnerable patients; this new policy subverts that goal," Siegel said. "Essential hospitals operate with an average margin less than half that of other hospitals and depend on 340B program savings to stretch resources for patient care and community services. Given their fragile financial position, essential hospitals will not weather this policy's 27 percent cut to Part B drug payments without scaling back services or jobs."

340B Health said the rule is a backdoor effort to undermine an important drug discount program.

"Responding to a survey earlier this year, 340B hospitals were unanimous in saying implementation of the CMS rule would cause them to cut back services. For example, Genesis Healthcare System in Zanesville, Ohio, estimates a loss of $3 million in Medicare payments could force it to cancel critical services such as substance abuse treatment, cancer treatment, and behavioral health programs.The MetroHealth System Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, estimates an $8 million loss would raise patients' costs and reduce access to needed services including transportation and care navigation that are supported by 340B savings," said 340B Health CEO Ted Slafsky.

However, the AIR340B Coalition said it would continue to advocate for regulatory action to better align the program with its original intent of helping vulnerable patients.

"We applaud the Administration for taking action to help address one aspect of the 340B program that has been leading to higher costs for Medicare and its beneficiaries," the AIR340B Coalition said.

Areas of change it supports include clearly defining a 340B eligible patient, examination of hospital and satellite clinic eligibility criteria, and a more rational and legally supportable policy on contract pharmacy arrangements.

CMS said the savings will be reallocated equally to all hospitals paid under the hospital outpatient prospective payment system. Children's hospitals, certain cancer hospitals, and rural sole community hospitals will be excluded from these drug payment reductions.

CMS will work with Congress for additional considerations on 340B for safety net hospitals, said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Consumers would save an estimated $320 million in copayments in 2018 under the new payment rule that gives Medicare beneficiaries the benefit of discounts hospitals receive under the 340B program, according to Verma.

"As part of the president's priority to lower the cost of prescription drugs, Medicare is taking steps to lower the costs Medicare patients pay for certain drugs in the hospital outpatient setting," Verma said.

The final rule will also allow outpatient payment to be made when Medicare beneficiaries receive certain procedures in a lower cost setting, the outpatient department. The new availability of the higher OPPS payment applies to six procedures, including total knee replacements, a common and costly Medicare surgical procedure, CMS said.

Starting in January 2018, Medicare beneficiaries undergoing any of the six procedures can opt to have them performed in a lower cost setting when a clinician believes such a setting is appropriate.

Additionally, the final rule provides relief to rural hospitals by placing a two-year moratorium on the direct physician supervision requirements for rural hospitals and critical access hospitals.

"CMS understands the importance of strengthening access to care, especially in rural areas," Verma said. "This policy helps to ensure access to outpatient therapeutic services for seniors living in rural communities and provides regulatory relief to America's rural hospitals."

In a home health prospective payment system final rule, CMS is not finalizing the home health groupings model and will take additional time to further engage with stakeholders.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
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