HHS Grants Immunity to Ebola Vaccine Makers

HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell released a declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act under which three pharmaceutical entities would be given immunity from legal liability related to the production, testing and distribution of the Ebola vaccines they are developing. The HHS Secretary said that the global community must ensure that legitimate concerns about liability do not hold back the possibility of developing an Ebola vaccine, an essential strategy in the global response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

HHS Updates EHR Interoperability Guidelines

The National Coordinator for Health IT described an update of HHS’s Federal Health IT Strategic Plan 2015-2020 as an effort to create a competitive and innovative marketplace by helping remove barriers to the electronic exchange of health information. The intent of the plan is for all participating federal agencies to give an assist in increasing health IT adoption; improving users’ outlook on the safety of health IT; expanding electronic health record interoperability; and increasing access to broadband Internet for rural providers.

HHS IG Finds Medicaid Beneficiaries Lack Access

The HHS Office of the Inspector General released a report in which it was found that: over 50% of providers listed in Medicaid managed care plan networks were unavailable to provide care to plan enrollees; 35% of providers did not even practice at the locations listed by the plans studied; 8% of the listed providers were not even in the plans’ networks; and 8% were not accepting new patients. The OIG recommended that CMS work with states to overcome the various shortfalls in provider access.

MACPAC Discusses CHIP Extension

At last week’s meeting, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) discussed the fallout on the access of up to 4 million children to affordable health coverage if Congress fails to extend the program beyond this fiscal year. If CHIP is not extended, then states would be required to move covered children into PPACA exchange plans which might be more expensive and contain different plan benefits. The panel discussed changes to the PPACA that might be necessary to continue children’s coverage, such as lowering premiums, reducing cost sharing and increasing tax credit subsidies. The commission will continue to discuss the issue at its January meeting.

CMS Star System for Home Health Agencies

CMS announced it has future plans to introduce a five-star rating system for home health agencies to be displayed on its Home Health Compare website. Once proposed, the agency will seek timely comments to enable the star system to be up and running sometime this summer.

CMS to Recompete Certain DMEs

CMS announced a “Round 2 Recompete” for seven categories and national mail-order diabetic testing supplies under its competitive bidding process for durable medical equipment in 90 geographic areas. The new bids will be taken from January 22 to March 25 next year.

PCORI Grants for Hep C Treatments

The Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) has approved up to $50 million for one to four head-to-head studies aimed at improving treatment options for hepatitis C.

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