The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission makes recommendations for APRNs

  

The value of nurses continues to be seen at the federal level. Paralleling the Administrations’ December report, that recognized the role registered nurses and advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) play in patient care, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), also made recommendations to show the value of nurses. At the most recent MedPAC meeting in January, the 17 commission members, including two nurses, unanimously voted to recommend that “The Congress should require APRNs and Physician Assistants (PAs) to bill the Medicare program directly, eliminating ‘incident to’ billing for services they provide.” The goal of this recommendation is to reduce costs in the Medicare program as well as improve Medicare’s data on who furnishes care to beneficiaries. Currently, APRNs and PAs are paid 85 percent of the rate that physicians receive under the physician fee schedule when they bill Medicare directly for the same services. Therefore, practices may be reimbursed less overall, but accurate data can be collected to show the value of nursing.

The second recommendation from the Commission reads that, “The Secretary [of Health and Human Services] should refine Medicare’s specialty designations for APRNs and PAs.” Medicare has limited information on the specialties of practice for these clinicians and therefore cannot target resources appropriately to areas of concern, such as primary care.

It is important to note that nothing in either of the recommendations would determine what services clinicians can perform, which is up to state statutes and the physicians with whom they practice. MedPAC can only make recommendations to Congress for consideration to changes to the Medicare system.

These recommendations closely parallel the Administration’s Reforming America’s Healthcare System Through Choice and Competition Report that endorses broader state and federal scope-of-practice (SOP) statutes for all health care providers, including APRNs, that allow them to practice to the top of their license and full skill set. The report also advises eliminating “collaborative practice” and supervision requirements which can impede access to care and limit the ability of providers to diagnose and treat myriad health care issues, especially in underserved populations and in rural areas where patients rely on APRNs for timely care and lifesaving treatment.

Individual states will have to determine SOP statutes, but if all APRNs who bill Medicare are designating their areas of practice as well as services provided, increased data will be available to better determine patient outcomes and highlight quality nursing services. Moreover, better data will be available for services provided by communities to allow for more informed choices at the local and state level.

ANA continues to participate in discussions regarding APRN SOP and has provided comment to MedPAC and the Administration on issues, such as expansion of telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries, that can affect nurses and the care they provide to patients across the country.

 

Looking at Congress to help fight the opioid epidemic

  

Last week, Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo) office released a report finding that over the last six years, enough opioids were shipped into the state of Missouri to give every resident 260 pills. While that is a snapshot of just one state, combine that news with the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that the number of overdose deaths involving fentanyl and similar drugs nearly doubled between the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017, and it becomes clear that the opioid crisis is still destroying the lives of individuals, families, and communities in epic proportions.

These reports follow a new CDC alert to public health and health care professionals about the increased availability of illicit synthetic opioids, the second update to the health advisory since October 2015. As the crisis continues to transform, health care providers, government agencies and Congress are also changing their tactics to fight this epidemic.

Over the past few weeks of extensive negotiations, the House of Representatives wrapped up multiple proposed opioid crisis bills into one large package, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6). This iteration of the bill would grant Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants permanent authority to prescribe Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) while the other three Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) professions (Certified Nurse-Midwives, Clinical Nurse Specialists, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) would have authorization for five years. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act would also require a study of the efficacy of providing MAT by all providers, including physicians. H.R. 6 will now move to the Senate where there has been concern over the CBO estimated cost of $395 million over a 10-year period. Given the important role that treatment has in solving this epidemic, ANA does not believe this cost should impede the passing of this bill and increase access to life saving treatment to those suffering from substance use disorders.

Medication-Assisted Treatment has been shown to be the most effective form of treatment for opioid use disorders. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that combined with behavioral therapy, effective MAT programs for opioid addiction decrease overdose deaths resulting in cost savings, reduce transmissions of HIV and hepatitis C related to IV drug use, and mitigate associated criminal activity. Along with APRNs providing MAT services, all nurses with their roles as direct care givers, care coordinators, educators, and patient advocates play a pivotal role in solving this crisis by helping patients and their families understand the risks and benefits of pain treatment options.

ANA will continue to work with Congress, federal agencies, and our partners in the Nursing Community to fight to expand the nurse’s role in solving the opioid crisis. We urge everyone to now call their Senators in support of Senate bill S.2317 (Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act of 2018) and ensure that they include it in any opioid package that is passed.

The White House proposes using capital punishment to curb the opioid epidemic

  

Congress, government agencies, foundations, communities, and health care providers have been developing and implementing policies to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic for years. Nurses are on the frontline and in the trenches treating chronic pain, substance misuse, and mental health issues. Many health related policies and regulations are still ineffective in fixing the opioid epidemic, but we do know that using a criminal justice route to solve a public health problem will not succeed in its intent. But just this week, President Trump called for the death penalty, also known as capital punishment, for “certain drug dealers” in order to curb the opioid epidemic.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) opposes both capital punishment and nurse participation in capital punishment. Capital punishment and penalizing those convicted of certain classes of crimes by killing them violates the most basic human right, the right to life and liberty. The ethical standards of the profession obligates nurses to protect human rights and practice with respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every. Instead ANA advocates  for increasing access to Complementary Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), access to mental health services, and patient centered education.

The Trump administrations plan also includes a federally backed ad campaign to prevent non-prescribed opioid use. Education needs to extend past prevention measure to include safe use, storage, and disposal. Proper disposal of unused pills ensures that fewer opioids reach unintended persons and markets, and in turn, less misuse of narcotics.

Health care providers, public health officials, and law enforcement need to work together to implement proven policies that help all individuals and communities. Instead of taking a criminal justice path, such as the failed drug policies of the “just say no” campaign, which history has shown to perpetuate public health issues, officials need to take an interdisciplinary approach to address the underlying health, economic, social, and educational causes of drug use in both urban and rural communities. ANA is actively advocating for nurses through advising federal agencies, supporting federal legislation, and connecting members with their representatives to ensure the voices of nurses are heard.