Memo to Temp Nursing Agencies,  MassHealth Vaccine Transport , and more... 

Temporary Nursing Agencies Get DPH Reminder on Rates

The pandemic continues to have a tremendous effect on the healthcare workforce, and Massachusetts hospitals have been raising concerns about substantial price hikes being charged for traveling nurses and other temporary staff. Last Tuesday, the state Department of Public Health issued a memorandum to temporary nursing agencies’ Executive Officers regarding the rates such agencies can charge. 
In the memorandum, DPH reiterated that during the COVID-19 emergency, temporary nursing agencies registered in Massachusetts must comply with the current maximum rates for services spelled out in Executive Office of Health and Human Services regulation 101 CMR 345.00. The memorandum also reminded the agencies that pursuant to 105 CMR 157, DPH may deny, revoke, and refuse to renew registrations for temporary nursing agencies for violations, including charging fees above the permitted maximum rate. 

MassHealth to Cover Transportation for Vaccine Appointments

MassHealth has made changes to its non-emergency transportation policy to make it easier for covered individuals to get free transportation to and from COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
MassHealth is now providing free transportation to vaccine appointments to any MassHealth member or Health Safety Net patient. This includes people enrolled in MassHealth Limited, Children’s Medical Security Program and MassHealth Family Assistance. In addition, members can request transportation services directly through MassHealth’s customer service, rather than needing to request services through a healthcare provider.
MassHealth All Provider Bulletin 310 and this FAQ document contain additional details on the new policy, and members can also visit the MassHealth webpage for more information on COVID-19 vaccines. 

COVID-19 Community Impact Survey's Preliminary Findings

The Department of Public Health shared preliminary findings from its COVID-19 Community Impact Survey last Wednesday at the department's Public Health Council meeting. Healthcare officials say the findings help quantify and highlight the pandemic's disproportionate impact on certain vulnerable populations and will inform the state's pandemic public health response, including vaccination efforts. 
Responses were collected from some 35,000 Massachusetts residents, who were surveyed from September through November of f 2020. The assessment found underserved populations including LGBTQ+ residents, communities of color, individuals with disabilities and lower-income earners were among those most severely impacted by the pandemic. These groups were more likely to report more worry about COVID-19, less economic stability during the pandemic, higher rates of work outside the home and food insecurity, and greater rates of delayed medical care.

The Promise of the J&J Vaccine

As the nation awaits word on Emergency Use Authorization of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, providers see the J&J option as a likely game-changer for the vaccination rollout both here in Massachusetts and across the country.
If approved, the vaccine would be the first single-dose COVID-19 inoculation available in the United States. That means residents would only need to schedule one appointment - a meaningful distinction for individuals for which transportation, mobility, or even just general unease with the experience of getting shots pose significant barriers. In addition, it does not require the sophisticated refrigeration that is necessary to store its Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna counterparts.
Most importantly, the J&J clinical trials indicate that the vaccine is effective in all meaningful metrics related to individual protection against COVID-19. It has shown to be 85% effective against severe COVID-19 illness and to provide 100% protection against hospitalization and death from the virus.
Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, and his team were key partners in the design of the vaccine, which draws upon technology they developed over a decade ago.
"We were able to move so quickly in part because we were able to build on our previous vaccine research against other pathogens, including HIV and Zika," said Barouch in a BIDMC press release. "That prior work allowed us to move forward at an unprecedented pace without sacrificing any of the established safeguards for vaccine development." 
Federal officials have stated that initial supply of Johnson & Johnson doses would be limited, with the 100 million doses committed through the end of July likely to be “back end loaded.” South Africa became the first nation to administer the vaccine last week.

COVID-19 Issues Cause 36% of Americans to Delay or Skip Care

More than a third of U.S. adults have delayed or skipped needed medical care because of pandemic-related issues, and 29 percent also delayed or went without care for their children for the same reasons.
Those are the findings of a pair of reports released last week by The Urban Institute. Respondents cited fears of exposure to COVID-19, combined with limited services caused by the pandemic, for not pursuing timely care.
The analyses, which were funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also found that forgoing timely medical care had negative consequences, with one-third of those who did so reporting that their health conditions or ability to perform certain daily activities worsened as a result.
Black adults were more likely than white or Hispanic/Latinx adults to report delaying or forgoing care (39.7% versus 34.3% and 35.5%, respectively), and were also more likely to report delaying or forgoing multiple types of care (28.5% versus 21.1% and 22.3%, respectively), the reports said. 
From the outset of the pandemic, Massachusetts healthcare providers have put extensive safety precautions in place to ensure the safest possible care for COVID- and non-COVID patients alike. Healthcare organizations have engaged in extensive messaging campaigns to reiterate these safety measures, and that delaying care is dangerous. 

Chiquita Brooks-Lasure Tapped for CMS Administrator Post

President Joe Biden continues to fill out his healthcare leadership team with seasoned policy professionals, nominating Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Brooks-Lasure has worked extensively on many aspects of the Affordable Care Act, first as a staffer on the Health Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee from 2007 to 2010, and later in several senior roles within CMS during the Obama administration. She currently consults with states at Manatt Health. 
As CMS Administrator, Brooks-Lasure would oversee the trillion-dollar agency, including numerous state healthcare insurance marketplaces and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She would also work closely with Xavier Becerra, Biden's pick for Health and Human Services Secretary. Brooks-Lasure has an existing working relationship with Becerra, based on their shared time working and serving on the Ways & Means Health Subcommittee. 
The position of CMS Administrator requires Senate confirmation. The Senate will hold confirmation hearings on Becerra’s nomination for HHS Secretary later this week.

Division of Insurance Information Sessions on Telehealth Implementation

The Division of Insurance and MassHealth have scheduled a series of information sessions to discuss the implementation of telehealth provisions included in Chapter 260 of the Acts of 2020 - as enacted on January 1, 2021. 
The information sessions will offer providers, consumers, insurance carriers and other interested parties an opportunity to discuss guidance that DOI and MassHealth might provide to allow for the implementation of the noted provisions. The sessions will also reference the statutory provisions directly to identify whether there are issues that need to be clarified.
A weblink to the sessions is expected to be posted on the DOI website. The schedule of upcoming sessions and their planned topics is:
Friday, February 26 10-11:30 a.m. 
Planned topics: (1) carrier contracts with providers and (2) telehealth technology
Friday, March 12 10-11:30 a.m. 
Planned topics: (1) definitions of primary care, chronic care, behavioral health care and (2) “health care services appropriate to be provided through telehealth”
Wednesday, March 31 10-11:30 a.m. 
Planned topics: (1) reimbursement and (2) billing
Wednesday, April 14 10-11:30 a.m. 
Planned topics: (1) utilization review for telehealth and (2) telehealth standards to be added to managed care accreditation reviews


John LoDico, Editor