A Week of COVID-19 Developments

MassHealth Actions to Assist Providers, Members

Recognizing cash flow concerns at many hospitals, MassHealth announced late last week that it will consider providing hospitals cash advances on a case-by-case basis with priority given for those at imminent financial risk and little cash on hand. MassHealth distributed a template for hospitals to fill out when making requests.
Also, as requested by MHA, MassHealth will immediately issue the majority of its supplemental payments already budgeted for FY21 but which had been scheduled to be paid later this year. The payments are for safety net providers, pediatric hospitals, and other qualified hospitals. Safety net provider payments are paid to 14 hospitals with high Medicaid and low commercial insurance volume. Regarding these payments, $83 million of the planned $158 million is being issued immediately. 
EOHHS also announced that it is protecting all current and future MassHealth enrollees from most changes that would potentially affect their eligibility. MassHealth annually reviews individuals for eligibility to ensure they continue to meet income standards, among other things. The agency also receives information from other agencies, including the Department of Revenue, which could indicate an enrollee is potentially no longer eligible based on income. Effective immediately, MassHealth will protect coverage for all individuals who have Medicaid coverage as of March 18, 2020, and for all individuals approved for coverage during the COVID-19 outbreak national emergency and for one month after the emergency period ends. MHA is grateful to the EOHHS and Baker Administration for taking decisive action to address these immediate financial/enrollment concerns.

Childcare Spaces Go Live Today

Last week Governor Baker ordered all day care centers closed effective yesterday, but also allowed the creation of emergency childcare centers with priority given to vulnerable children and children of front-line caregivers. MHA worked with the state to get the program up and running.
Here is the link to the state website of exempt emergency childcare providers. Among the childcare providers are YMCAs that are working to expand their facility and staff capacity; to assess and match those capacities to projected needs in terms of volume, locations, and hours; and to find the funding required to sustain the work.

Attorney General Clamps Down on Price Gouging

Attorney General Maura Healey announced last Friday that her office has filed an emergency regulation to prohibit price gouging of essential products and services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The amendment filed today with the Secretary of State’s Office and effective immediately prohibits price gouging of goods and services necessary for public health and safety during a declared statewide or national emergency. Previously under the state’s consumer protection law, the only existing regulation related to price gouging addressed the sale of gasoline and other petroleum products. MHA had reached out to the AG on this issue.

Life Sciences’ Call to Action on PPE

The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MassBio) joined with MHA in asking every life sciences and healthcare organization to consider how they may be able to help in the COVID-19 fight, specifically in donating lab, testing, and diagnostics supplies, personal protection equipment (PPE), and medical and scientific expertise. Healthcare providers may send requests for supplies or expertise by e-mailing supplyhub@massbio.org and MassBio will share the requests with DPH.

DPH’s Guidance: Caregivers Returning to Work

DPH has issued new guidance, based on CDC guidance, which outlines how providers may consider allowing asymptomatic healthcare personnel, who have had an exposure to COVID-19, to continue working after a series of conditions have been met. Facilities can allow the employment of asymptomatic workers, who have been exposed to COVID-19 as long as the worker meets conditions relating to daily assessment of temperature, continually wearing a mask, and ceasing work at the first sign of symptoms – among other guidelines detailed here.

Hotels Will Help

MHA has been in contact with the hospitality sector to help arrange accommodations for healthcare staff in hotels near hospitals. MHA has shared with select members a list of hotels near them that have agreed to serve healthcare staff; some hotels have explored potentially serving patients who are not suspected of COVID-19 infection.

Aid Package Expected Shortly from D.C.

Initial reports out of Washington, D.C. yesterday indicated a large relief package to the healthcare sector was near passage. MHA President & CEO Steve Walsh, in a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation last week, outlined the needs of the commonwealth’s hospital community. He asked for: immediate, direct emergency funding relief for hospitals and health systems; cash advance and loan assistance for hospitals; and childcare benefits for healthcare workers – including non-clinical workers who are especially in need. MHA also asked for opening up of the National Strategic Stockpile, among other requests.

John LoDico, Editor