RISE reviews the latest from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Feds OK first Medicaid block grant in Tennessee, but future unclear under Biden administration

CMS on Friday approved a new Medicaid financing approach, which will give Tennessee unprecedented flexibility to run its Medicaid program in exchange for capping its annual federal funding. The new approach aims to align incentives across the state and federal government. The section 1115 demonstration, known as “TennCare III,” includes an agreement with Tennessee on a fixed budget target, more flexibility in how that funding can be used to improve services under the Medicaid program, and the opportunity to earn federal savings that can be reinvested in programs that improve the health of vulnerable populations in the state, all while preserving existing Medicaid coverage. CMS approved the demonstration for 10 years, but it’s unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will support the move, Kaiser Health News reports. In order to walk it back, Biden officials would need to set up a review that includes a public hearing. Meanwhile, the changes in Tennessee will take months to implement because they need final legislative approval, KHN reports, and state officials must negotiate quality of care targets with the administration.

COVID-19 public health emergency extended to April

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has extended the public health emergency declaration for a fourth time. The emergency declaration allows providers and health plans to better respond to COVID-19 by taking advantage of flexibilities, including the waiving of telehealth restrictions and cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests. Azar first declared the coronavirus as a public health emergency on January 27, 2020 and extended it in April 2020 and October 2020. The latest extension will continue until April 21.

HHS final rule requires regulatory review every 10 years

HHS on Friday issued a final rule, known as Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely (SUNSET), that requires the department to review its regulations every 10 years to determine whether they are subject to review under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). If so, the Department must review the regulation to determine whether it is still needed and whether they have appropriate impacts. Regulations will expire if the department does not assess and review them in a timely manner. “For decades, Presidents have said agencies should retrospectively review their regulations. With the SUNSET rule, HHS is actually doing it,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in an announcement. “Finalizing our SUNSET rule will deliver for the American people better, smarter, less burdensome regulations in the years to come.”

Under the final rule, any regulation issued by HHS, with certain exceptions, will cease to be effective 10 years after it is issued, unless HHS performs a plenary assessment of the regulation and a more detailed review of those regulations that have a significant economic impact upon a substantial number of small entities.

HHS invests $8M to address gaps in rural telehealth

HHS on Monday, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded $8 million to fund the Telehealth Broadband Pilot (TBP) program. The TBP program assesses the broadband capacity available to rural health care providers and patient communities to improve their access to telehealth services. Through the new program, $6.5 million was awarded to the National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center (TTAC), based out of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. TTAC will implement the TBP in four state community locations, including Alaska, Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia.