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HHS threatens to withhold federal funding from hospitals that don’t report coronavirus information

The Department of Health and Human Services is threatening to withhold U.S. funds from hospitals that do not meet federal requirements for reporting data on Covid-19 and influenza patients. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma announced this on Tuesday.

Verma said on a conference call with reporters that hospitals will have 14 weeks to meet requirements before enforcement goes into effect. She said federal officials will be working with hospitals during this time to bring them into compliance.

"Because this requirement is included in Medicare's Eligibility Requirements, failure to comply could result in termination from both Medicare and Medicaid, meaning the hospital would not receive reimbursement from these programs," Verma said. "We will do everything we can to facilitate reporting."

Withholding Medicare and Medicaid funds would be a severe blow to almost any hospital. Dr. However, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House's coronavirus task force, stressed that the data is "really critical" in guiding the US's response to the pandemic.

The data requested by hospitals includes the number of Covid-19 patients in each hospital and the availability of medical equipment such as ventilators and protective gowns for employees. Birx announced Tuesday that HHS is now in need of new data from hospitals to better track seasonal flu patients across the country.

The federal government is using the data to steer potentially life-saving policy responses to the pandemic, e.g. B. how the scarce supplies of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, one of the few treatments for Covid-19, can best be distributed.

Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety for the American Hospital Association, said in a telephone interview with CNBC last week that withholding Medicare and Medicaid funds was "too severe a penalty for a community".

But she added that tricking hospitals into compliance to "keep hospitals feet on the fire, but not immediately remove them from Medicare and Medicaid programs," is probably just one strategy.

"Losing your ability to participate in Medicare and Medicaid is a huge hammer," said Foster, who serves on a working group of national hospital officials that advised HHS efforts to advance federal data collection. "It doesn't just affect the hospitals," she added. "It takes away the opportunity to go to that particular hospital for Medicare and Medicaid patients."

Verma said on the call Tuesday that CMS will send multiple notices to hospitals that are not compliant before enforcement threatens. She said there are just over 6,000 hospitals on the agency's system starting Wednesday to receive notifications letting them know how well they are meeting data reporting requirements.

Birx said on the conference call that approximately 86% of hospitals report on the system on a daily basis and approximately 98% at least weekly. It is unclear which part of the hospitals comply with the regulations, but Dr. Janis Orlowski, Chief Health Care Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, estimates that around 96% report their Covid-19 data.

"We have most of our hospitals reporting general," Verma said. "Not all of them will report on a daily basis. This is really to encourage them to report their data on a daily basis."

Orlowski, who is also a member of the working group, said adding seasonal influenza data to reporting requirements could put a real burden on some hospitals that are already struggling to meet requirements. She added that the compliance rate is already high. Therefore, it is drastic to meet the requirements for participation in Medicare and Medicaid.

"We have 96% of the people reporting and you are going to take a really draconian measure," Orlowski said in a telephone interview last week. However, she added that hopefully HHS would include a long enforcement period before action was taken. Still, she said she and other hospital officials spoke out against the move.

"We had conversations with the administration and basically said, 'You have to kid me. You know, we are working with you and you will set a condition for participation?'" She said.

The Birx National Hospital Representative Working Group, which usually meets every Thursday, hasn't met in about three weeks, Orlowski and Foster said.

In late July, hospitals across the country got into trouble after HHS abruptly told them to stop reporting their data to the longstanding National Healthcare Safety Network of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, hospitals have been instructed to report the information to HHS through a new portal.

At the time, HHS was linking hospital collaboration with reporting to the distribution of remdesivir, but the decision left many rural hospitals in the dark as they relied on the CDC to compile and share this information, as their states did not own the data collect .

One of the toughest requirements for some, especially smaller hospitals, is having to report data every day, including the weekend. However, HHS 'new guidelines state that hospitals without weekend staff can submit their weekend data by the end of Monday.

"Ultimately, it's about patients," Verma told reporters on the call. "We want to make sure hospitals have the supplies they need. All of these reports just ensure that the frontline health workers and patients have the supplies and treatments they need."

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