ED Use Remains Flat

The number of adults who visited the emergency department (ED) in 2014 was in line with previous numbers observed over the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. Approximately 18 percent of people age 18 to 64 visited the ER one or more times, most often because they were facing an urgent medical problem. One in five respondents reported that the reason for their visit was an access-related issue – either their doctor’s office was not open, or they lacked access to other providers. The CDC’s analysis did not find a significant change in ER use as the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage expansion took effect.

FDA Makes Recommendation on Zika and Blood Donation

While there have been no reports of the Zika virus entering the country’s blood supply, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has recommended that travelers to areas experiencing an outbreak of the Zika virus should defer blood donation for four weeks. The agency’s guidance document recommends that blood donation organizations also defer people who have had sexual contact with a person who has traveled to a Zika-infected area within the last three months. The guidance says that blood donation establishments in Zika areas should obtain blood from areas without active transmission of the virus. The agency notes that it is prioritizing the development of blood screening and diagnostic tests that may be useful for identifying the presence of the virus, the evaluation of investigational vaccines and therapeutics, and review of technology that may suppress populations of mosquitoes responsible for spreading the virus. The FDA plans to issue guidance related to Zika and the donation of other human cells and tissues as well.

Administration Pushes for Puerto Rico Health Funding

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is urging Congress to act to make changes to the Puerto Rican Medicaid program and increase health care funding for the federal territory. HHS has called on Congress to lift the cap on Medicaid funds provided to the island, and to gradually increase the federal government’s share of Medicaid costs from 55 percent to 83 percent. The administration also wants Congress to raise the eligibility threshold for Medicaid to 100 percent of the poverty level. The request is a part of a broader push by the administration to assist Puerto Rico in its debt crisis. While the issue was not addressed in the fiscal year (FY) 2016 spending bill, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has directed House committees to find a solution to the crisis by
the end of March.

Lawmakers Press CMS on Medicaid Oversight

Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairman Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) and Vice Chairman Brett Guthrie (RKy.) have written to Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Andy Slavitt making inquiries into the agency’s oversight of states’ use of provider taxes to finance the non-federal share of program expenditures. They express concerns that some states may be shifting some of the financial burden of Medicaid financing back to the federal government. The lawmakers raise six questions on this financing scheme and request that Slavitt respond within 30 days.

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