DC Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Individual Mandate

On November 8, 2011, in the latest scrimmage regarding the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) individual mandate, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the mandate’s constitutionality. The Court found that Congress could create “national solutions to national problems, no matter how local–or seemingly passive–their individual origins,” and that the individual mandate was therefore constitutional because it was within Congress’ authority.

On November 10, 2011, the United States Supreme Court will hold a private conference to decide whether to hear the challenges to the ACA.

Read the entire decision here.

CMS Releases Final ACO Regulations

Yesterday afternoon the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the long anticipated final Accountable Care Organization (ACO) regulations, after considering the nearly 1200 comments submitted in response to the earlier proposed regulations. ACOs, created under the Affordable Care Act, are a model of health care that focuses on collaboration between providers across a continuum of care including different health care settings. The new regulations set forth the specifics for the program including payment mechanisms through which providers will be compensated for care provided through the integrated ACO model, as well as performance requirements for participating providers. The first ACOs will start operating in 2012.

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HHS Suspends ACA’s Class Act for Long-Term Care Insurance

Late this afternoon the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS)Secretary Kathleen Sebelius pulled back a long-term care insurance program, the Class Act, that was passed under last year’s Affordable Care Act. The Class Act’s goal was to create an insurance program that could cover the health care costs associated with many activities of daily living, including bathing and toileting. Speaking today, the Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that there didn’t appear to be a viable path for the Class Act, in part due to increasing concern that the program would have created substantial long-term costs.

Read Kathleen Sebelius’ full letter to Congress here.

CMS Expands Medicaid Money Follows the Person Program

The Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) recently expanded the Money Follows the Person grant program to provide additional assistance to state grantees’ implementation of quality improvement strategies. The Money Follows the Person program was created through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and fifteen states received funds under the program in January 2011. Due to increases in demand from states and programs under the ACA, additional funds were needed to support the new individuals benefitting from the program including support for quality mechanisms addressing the needs of vulnerable populations. Through its recent notice, CMS announced its $1.2 million expansion of the program to be used for developing technical assistance to grantee staff and subcontractors, home and community-based services programs, CMS staff oversight, and web-based technical assistance.

Access the full notice here.

Medicare Advantage Premiums Falling and Enrollment Up for 2012

HHS recently announced its expectation that Medicare Advantage premiums will fall approximately four percent in 2012, with enrollment expected to increase by 10 percent. This drop in premiums has been supported by the Affordable Care Act, which allowed CMS to prevent substantial cost increases or program cuts through elimination of co-pays and deductibles for Medicare-covered preventive services and additional discounts for Medicare beneficiaries that reach the prescription coverage “donut hole.” CMS is also offering high-quality performance incentives, including financial rewards and continuous marketing and enrollment to Five-Star Medicare Advantage and Part D plans.

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Pennsylvania District Court Finds Individual Mandate Unconstitutional

On September 13, 2011, the United States District Court of the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was unconstitutional as a violation of the Commerce Clause. In Goudy-Bachman v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 1:10-CV-763 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 13, 2011), the court found, similar to its predecessors in other courts, that the federal government was one of limited enumerated powers and that “Congress [could not] invoke its Commerce Clause power to compel individuals to buy insurance as a condition of lawful citizenship or residency.” Thus, although the court recognized that “[t]he nation undoubtedly faces a health care crisis,” it severed the individual mandate, the guaranteed issue, and preexisting conditions reforms from the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional. However, because the provisions found unconstitutional were severed from the Affordable Care Act, this decision allows the rest of the Act to stay intact and operative. The full decision is available at http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/opinions/conner/10v763a.pdf.

Eleventh Circuit Declares Individual Mandate Provision in Health Reform Law Unconstitutional

On Friday, August 12, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that the individual mandate provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Act”) is an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. However, the court refused to hold the entire Act unconstitutional, ruling instead that the individual mandate provision is severable from the rest of the Act. The decision creates a circuit split because it conflicts with the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which rejected a challenge to the individual mandate provision’s constitutionality.

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$71.3 Million in Federal Funding to Expand Nursing Workforce

On July 29, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would provide a total of $71.3 million in grant funding to expand the education and training of nurses and nursing diversity. The monies will be distributed among six types of awards: Nurse Education, Practice, Quality and Retention; Nursing Workforce Diversity; Nurse Faculty Loan Program; Advanced Nursing Education Program; Advanced Education Nursing Traineeships; Nurse Anesthetist Traineeships. Monies from these awards will support all levels of education from entry-level nursing to advanced traineeships, increase opportunities for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and provide partial loan-forgiveness for nursing faculty.

To read more about this announcement and see details of each of the awards, please go to http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/07/20110729a.html.

$45 Million More in Federal Funding to Assist Medicaid Beneficiaries

On February 22, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it would provide $45 million in grant funding to 13 states for the startup and operation of Money Follows the Person (MFP) demonstration projects. States operate MFP programs to provide financial support and assist Medicaid beneficiaries with moving from institutions (i.e., hospitals and nursing facilities) and transitioning back into their communities to live in their own homes or other facilities. HHS anticipates that this federal funding will help 13,000 more Medicaid beneficiaries, and it will continue to provide grant funding through 2016 by committing at least $621 million to the state projects.

To read more about this announcement and see the list of 13 states scheduled to receive grant funding, please go to http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/02/20110222b.html.

Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Requirements for Long-Term Care Facilities; Notice of Facility Closure

Issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)on February 18, 2011, this regulation implements section 6113 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The interim final rule amends existing legislation by introducing new notice requirements associated with long-term care (LTC) facility and skilled nursing facility (SNF) closures. Its purpose is twofold: to protect resident health and safety, and to facilitate a “smooth transition” in the event of a facility’s closure.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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