CMS says it is responding to hospitals’ plea for relief from burdensome reporting requirements, but not altering federal price transparency laws
Despite federal price transparency law that went into effect January 1 after a year-long court battle, some hospitals continue to balk at sharing their payer-negotiated rates for healthcare goods and services—including medical laboratory testing—claiming a variety of challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine distribution, and other difficulties, Modern Healthcare reported.
Now, after the American Hospital Association (AHA) in a January 7 letter asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to “exercise enforcement discretion with respect to the hospital price transparency rule,” CMS has removed the requirement that hospitals report certain negotiated-rates.
The CMS “Medicare Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) and Long Term Care Hospital (LTCH)” proposed rule for fiscal year (FY) 2022 (CMS-1752-P) removes hospitals’ need to report Medicare Advantage (MA) rates on Medicare cost reports effective Jan. 1, 2021, according to a CMS fact sheet.
This requirement was originally part of the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule (84 FR 65524), passed in 2019 during the Trump administration, which required hospitals to “establish, update, and make public a list of their standard charges for the items and services that they provide,” including clinical laboratory test prices. This reporting requirement did not sit well with the AHA.
In a statement, Ashley Thompson, Senior Vice President for Public Policy Analysis and Development for the American Hospital Association, said, “This policy will require hospitals to divert critically needed resources during this historic pandemic to administrative tasks that will not benefit patients.” She added, “We do not believe CMS has the authority to compel the disclosure of these terms and our legal challenge remains ongoing.”
However, if the new proposed rule goes into effect, CMS would no longer expect hospitals to report the rates they have negotiated with each Medicare Advantage plan, RevCycleIntelligence reported.
CMS Relieving a Burden, Not Eliminating a Requirement
In the fact sheet, CMS wrote that it “is proposing to repeal the requirement that a hospital report on the Medicare cost report the median payer-specific negotiated charge that the hospital has negotiated with all of its MA organization payers, by MS-DRG (Medicare-severity diagnosis related group), for cost reporting periods ending on or after January 1, 2021. CMS estimates this will reduce administrative burden on hospitals by approximately 64,000 hours.”
Experts noted that CMS is attempting to reduce providers’ administrative burdens, while keeping federal price transparency requirements in effect.
“The repeal of this requirement more falls into the bucket of easing hospitals’ burden as opposed to the agency’s stance on hospital price transparency,” Caitlin Sheetz, Director and Head of Analytics at ADVI Health, LLC, told Fierce Healthcare.
Still, the recent CMS action could be a sign that price transparency requirements for hospitals will not intensify, she added. “I would think it is very unlikely that [CMS] would put out a rule that is easing up hospital administrative burden [and] they would then ramp up audits for the hospital price transparency rule.”
AHA Supports CMS’ Latest Proposed Rule on Hospital Reporting
The AHA said the new proposed rule moves in the right direction.
In a statement, Tom Nickels, Executive Vice President of the AHA, said, “We have long said that privately negotiated rates take into account any number of unique circumstances between a private payer and a hospital and their disclosure will not further CMS’ goal of paying market rates that reflect the cost of delivering care.” He added, “We once again urge the agency to focus on transparency efforts that help patients access their specific financial information based on their coverage and care.”
Though federal price transparency rules are evolving, medical laboratories are encouraged to accept that consumer demand is one powerful force driving this trend. Thus, clinical laboratories that currently make it easy for patients to see the prices for common medical laboratory tests in advance of service should gain competitive advantage from this feature over time.
—Donna Marie Pocius