Coronavirus Daily Update: Republicans Release Stimulus Plan; Medicaid Enrollment Rising

During this critical time, Home Health Care News remains committed to bringing you all the essential news related to home-based care operations. At the same time, we also recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our regular content, we’ll continue to highlight industry-related developments and mitigation strategies in this rolling bulletin.

What you need to know from Monday (July 27):

— Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled the Republican coronavirus relief plan on Monday. McConnell said the legislation would include relief for jobless Americans, another $1,200 stimulus check for some individuals and more Paycheck Protection Program loan funds. The Republican plan would also provide some liability protections for doctors and other health care-related businesses. CNBC has more details here.

— Barry Cargill, president and CEO of the Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association, is the latest industry advocate to pen a call-to-action piece directed toward regulators. “To ensure home health agencies can survive the duration of the present health emergency, additional federal funds would prevent agency closures and staff layoffs while supporting continuity of care for patients,” Cargill wrote in a new op-ed published Monday. “Along with providing the financial resources necessary to maintain our operations, Medicare regulators and federal lawmakers must also move to ensure home health patients can receive care without risking potentially deadly exposure to COVID-19. This is where telehealth and telephonic virtual visits can play a vital role.”

— The New York State Senate and Assembly voted on July 23 to partially repeal liability protections granted to nursing homes, hospitals and other health care facilities as part of the state budget passed in April, Skilled Nursing News reported.

— The number of people covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) increased by 1.2 million between December 2019 and April 2020, including an increase in enrollment of 800,000 people since March, according to a new KFF analysis. Medicaid enrollment had declined over the previous two years.

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Coronavirus Daily Update: Unemployment Benefits Add-On Expiring; AHCA Seeks Provider Relief Fund Boost

What you need to know from Monday (July 20):

— The $600 COVID-19-inspired add-on to unemployment benefits is coming to an end after this week. Normal unemployment benefits will continue to be paid out, but no plan to extend the federal benefit has been announced. Despite the unemployment boost coming to an end, rising unemployment rates haven’t slowed down; last week, over 1 million more unemployment claims were reported. Less money during unemployment could help home-based care operators get certain workers back. Previously, the unemployment benefits had been too tough for agencies to match at times.

— The U.S. passed 140,000 deaths due to COVID-19, which currently accounts for more than a quarter of deaths from the virus worldwide. On Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to Quest Diagnostics, which handles COVID-19 testing, to conduct “pool testing,” according to NPR. That would allow multiple samples to be tested at the same time. If results come back negative, all the samples are negative. If a positive test comes back, individual tests are required.

— A new relief package is supposed to roll out from Washington, D.C., in the coming days, but there are divisions between the Senate GOP majority and the White House that are making it harder than expected, according to the AP. Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an idea for what should be prioritized in the new package. “The package from McConnell had been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and was expected to include $75 billion to help schools reopen, reduced unemployment benefits alongside a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits,” AP’s Lisa Mascaro wrote. HHCN has further details here.

— With rumors of the new package swirling, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) sent an open letter to Congress, urging them to consider more prioritized testing for at-risk members in long-term care settings as well as $100 billion more in relief funding for long-term care providers, among other requests.

— A community-based palliative care benefit is gaining traction, according to Hospice News. A slew of home-based care providers are either already in the palliative care space or are interested in getting into it — and palliative care has been especially relevant during the COVID-19 outbreak. A specific benefit could provide another revenue stream for providers moving forward.

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Coronavirus Daily Update: A Push to Defund Nursing Homes; California Hospitals Fill Up

During this critical time, Home Health Care News remains committed to bringing you all the essential news related to home-based care operations. At the same time, we also recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our regular content, we’ll continue to highlight industry-related developments and mitigation strategies in this rolling bulletin.

What you need to know from Monday (July 13):

— Despite many suspecting that the first, most brutal wave of COVID-19 was over, hospitals in California are just now experiencing their worst surges, according to the LA Times. “I’m expecting things to go from bad to worse over at least the next couple of weeks,” Mary Lynn Briggs, an intensive care unit nurse at Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, told the newspaper. Home-based care agencies have been at their best during the COVID-19 crisis when they’ve been able to ease the burden on hospitals and unload patients safely to make room.

— The American Health Care Association released a statement Monday suggesting the hasty re-opening of certain areas in the U.S. has put vulnerable populations at great risk. The association also reiterated that widespread testing, quick test results and adequate personal protective equipment was the best way to fight the virus. There is still a ways to go in those three areas, particularly in current hotspots like Florida.

— Former Democrat presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar wrote an op-ed focusing on the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the senior population. She also announced that she will be putting forth legislation to increase telehealth usage in Minnesota moving forward. “I am leading bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would further enhance telehealth and other virtual services in skilled nursing facilities,” Klobuchar wrote. “My bill would provide funding to expand the use of telehealth services, and help nursing facilities get technology to support virtual visits to help seniors stay connected.”

— Given all the troubles that nursing homes have experienced during the COVID-19 crisis, some have begun to wonder whether nursing homes — as they currently exist — should be defunded. “Despite the $90 billion paid annually by Medicare and Medicaid to nursing homes, and exacting regulatory requirements addressing quality of care and quality of life for the nation’s 1.3 million nursing home residents, we as a society have failed to keep frail elders safe — let alone in an environment that older adults look forward to residing in,” Charles Sabatino, director of the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging, wrote in a new op-ed. Sabatino suggests that it is time for a different and new model. If the nursing home model collapses, home-based care providers likely stand to benefit.

— President Donland Trump’s advisers are reportedly looking to undercut Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has gained fame as the nation’s top infectious disease expert in the last several months. Fauci has become more outspoken over concerns in surges across the country and recently said he lacks access to the president. There were reports that the Trump administration was pointing to some of the comments Fauci made earlier in the year to discredit him, yet White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied that on Monday.

— Families of health care workers killed by COVID-19 have been denied workers’ compensation benefits, according to Kaiser Health News. Without the help, families are being left behind without their loved ones and also without the primary incomes they once had. Data from the CDC shows that nearly 100,000 health care workers have been infected — a figure that is almost certainly lower than the real number.

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Coronavirus Daily Update: Senior Housing Occupancy Drops to Record Low; 1.3M Workers File for Unemployment

During this critical time, Home Health Care News remains committed to bringing you all the essential news related to home-based care operations. At the same time, we also recognize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our regular content, we’ll continue to highlight industry-related developments and mitigation strategies in this rolling bulletin.

What you need to know from Thursday (July 9):

— Another 1.3 million people filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance last week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. In total, about 50 million Americans have made initial jobless benefits claims in the past 16 weeks.

— As coronavirus cases surge, a growing number of Houston-area residents are dying at home, according to an NBC News and ProPublica review of Houston Fire Department data. In other Texas-related news, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that he was ordering an expansion of elective surgery suspensions in his state.

— Senior housing occupancy fell 2.8 percentage points in the second quarter of 2020 from 87.7% to 84.9%, according to new data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). The drop is the largest quarterly decline since data reporting began 14 years ago, making this quarter’s occupancy rate the lowest on record.

CMS announced that the Review Choice Demonstration (RCD) would be renewed for participating states beginning in August. “I’m not sure their timing could be any worse,” Linda Murphy, the founder and COO of Concierge Home Care in Florida, told HHCN.

— Another health system is opting to leverage external home health agencies for in-home care instead of its internal divisions. University of Kansas Health System’s St. Francis Campus announced it is moving patients from its care to the care of home health agencies or Midland Care Connection Inc., WIBW reports. Hospitals and health systems outsourcing their home health operations has been a growing trend dating back to last spring.

— As a reminder, HHS has delayed quarterly reports associated with CARES Act relief funding and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Quarterly reports were initially due July 10.

What you need to know from Wednesday (July 8):

— The Trump administration has officially notified the United Nations of its withdrawal from the World Health Organization (WHO), although the pullout won’t take effect until next year, according to the Associated Press.

— Overall, Congress has appropriated $2.6 trillion in funding to help the nation recover from COVID-19 and its impact on the U.S. economy. A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) analyzed how the funding has been distributed thus far. As of May 31, the government has distributed $1.2 trillion in relief to individuals, businesses, health care providers and governments agencies. Only a fraction of that amount has gone to home health and home care agencies.

— Occupancy at U.S. skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) slid to 78.9% during the first peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in April, according to recent data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). That figure compares to 84.4% occupancy in April 2019. The occupancy dip may continue for the foreseeable future, especially as home health care providers ramp up their SNF-to-home diversion efforts.

— An estimated 5.8 million Americans 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2020. By 2050, that number is projected to grow to upwards of 13.8 million people. As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, Alzheimer’s research is being delayed or suspended, with some of the most promising studies being forced to a complete halt, according to the American Neurological Association.

— As coronavirus cases surge, hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers continue to face a dire shortage of respirator masks, isolation gowns and disposable gloves, reports The New York Times.

What you need to know from Tuesday (July 7):

— Small businesses have another month to apply for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). President Donald Trump extended the program deadline to August 8 over the weekend. There is still about $130 billion left in PPP funding available.

— The Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Treasury Department released a list of more than 650,000 PPP loan recipients on Monday. However, the list was not exhaustive: It only included companies that received more than $150,000, accounting for less than 15% of all loan recipients. Among those included were Kanye West’s clothing and sneaker brand Yeezy, Ice Cube’s professional basketball league and a number of large fast food franchisees.

— While the SBA didn’t name all 5 million companies and organizations that have received PPP loans thus far, it did break down loan recipients by the numbers. Turns out, health care and social services businesses have been the top recipients so far, accounting for about 12.9% of the $591 billion in loans paid out.

— April — when the coronavirus was at its peak — was a banner month for telehealth usage. Telehealth claim lines increase 8,336% nationally from April 2019 to April 2020, according to FAIR Health’s Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. A claim line is an individual service listed on an insurance claim. The increase came after telehealth claim lines increased 4,347% from March 2019 to March 2020.

— Nursing homes workers were largely to blame for widespread facility outbreaks in New York, the state health department claimed in a report released Monday. The health department claimed facility staff — rather than residents — played the biggest role in spreading the virus throughout nursing homes.

What you need to know from Monday (July 6):

— The Trump Administration and CMS are taking additional steps to support access to home dialysis treatment, including newly proposed changes to the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Prospective Payment System (PPS). The proposed changes build on President Donlad Trump’s previous Advancing American Kidney Health executive order. Specifically, CMS is proposing that certain new and innovative equipment and supplies used for dialysis treatment of patients with ESRD in the home would qualify for an additional Medicare payment. Currently, more than 85% of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries with ESRD travel to a facility to receive their dialysis at least three times per week.

— Lawmakers in Colorado have approved a bill that will permanently expand telehealth coverage and access in the state, according to mHealthIntelligence. The bill requires the state Medicaid program to pay for telehealth services at rural health clinics, federally qualified health centers and the federal Indian Health Service at the same rate as in-person treatment. The bill also expands coverage to include home health and hospice care, among other services. The bill additionally allows home health care providers to supervise their own telehealth services.

— Due to the coronavirus, essentially all in-person outpatient visits were canceled in many parts of the U.S. between February and May. As a result of those cancellations, primary care practices are estimated to lose $67,774 in gross revenue per full time physician in calendar year 2020. The financial impact of COVID-19 on primary care practices is being highlighted in an upcoming Health Affairs piece.

— Despite the appearance of a new coronavirus wave sweeping the nation, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned on Monday that the U.S. was still “knee-deep in the first wave.” Fauci’s remarks came in a conversation with Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. A replay of that conversation is available here.

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