On June 2, CMS announced its first annual update to the Medicare hospital charge data as well as to the other data products and tools intended to increase transparency about Medicare payments.  The information compares the average amount a hospital bills for services that may be provided in connection with a similar inpatient stay or outpatient visit.  The data is on CMS's website and includes inpatient and outpatient hospital charge data for 2012. 

Burwell Confirmed by the Senate

On June 5, the Senate voted 78-17 to confirm Sylvia Mathews Burwell as HHS Secretary.  Some Senate Republicans had initially hinted at turning the nomination into a proxy battle over the ACA, but Burwell received enough early support from Senate Finance Republicans to avoid a drawn out confirmation battle.

HHS Provides Boost in Health Centers Funding

On June 3, HHS announced that they will award up to $300 million in supplemental grant funding to the 1,300 federally qualified community health centers.  According to HHS, the funding is intended to enable the health centers to expand primary care capacity to support new patients and also expand services to cover oral, behavioral, pharmacy and vision services for new and existing patients. 

Health centers are asked to apply for the grants by July 1, 2014, and the Health Resources and Services Administration intends to award the funding by September of 2014. 

CMS Announces ICD-10 Test Week Results

CMS recently announced it accepted almost 90% of test ICD-10 claims filed during the ICD test week in March. The normal acceptance rate for ICD billing codes is between 95% and 98% for Medicare's fee-for-service system, but some regions during the CMS trial period boasted rates as high as 99%.

CMS conducted the March test to allow providers a chance to bill using the more complex ICD-10 codes while not experiencing any interruption in their operations flow. Roughly 2,600 participants, including providers, billing companies, suppliers and clearinghouses, submitted more than 127,000 claims with ICD-10 codes during that week.

CMS plans to conduct "end-to-end" testing next year before a full switch to the ICD-10 system in October 2015.

Bills Introduced This Week

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) introduced a bill to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program under which eligible veterans may elect to receive hospital care and medical services at non-VA facilities.  The pilot program (H.R. 4759) would reimburse participating hospitals for the cost of care delivered. 

Rep. Don Young (R-AK) introduced a bill (H.R. 4780) that would provide a five-year extension of the rural community demonstration program.  Under the current program, participating rural community hospitals must be located in one of the 20 states with the lowest population density.

Next Week in Washington

The House and Senate both return Monday.  The Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies will mark up its appropriations bill on June 10. The mark up, which traditionally includes hundreds of amendments, is expected to last through the morning of June 12.