Large health care investments cap off eventful 2020 as we look ahead into 2021

  

What a historic year it has been on so many levels. Leaving behind the first year of a new decade that saw struggles which we could not have foreseen in January 2020, and going into a holiday season that looks vastly different from years passed and a future that is still unclear – it’s easy to focus on the negative. However, despite the trials and tribulations of this year, it is important and inspiring to recognize all of the ground-breaking work that ANA and nurses have done in the policy, government affairs and advocacy spaces, as we look towards what is on the horizon in 2021.

At the time of publication, Congress is in the process of passing a year-end package that will avert a government shutdown, include money for vaccines and COVID-19 aid to frontline workers, boost the economy, and include language to protect patients from surprise billing for health care. ANA has been working with our allies in Congress, and advocating to get these items addressed. Please be on the lookout for further details on the year-end package by visiting ANA’s new advocacy page. In the meantime, let’s acknowledge the progress made throughout 2020, which was necessitated by the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Included in the law is language that reauthorizes Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs and authorizes Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) to order home health care for their patients. These are longtime ANA federal legislative priorities, and we applaud Congress and the administration on their passage in the early stages of the pandemic. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) like NPs and CNSs are key to COVID-19 care and maintaining access to non-COVID-19 care throughout the crisis.

By summer, ANA was becoming a regular voice for nurses as Congress sought additional solutions to PHE challenges in the healthcare system. ANA President Ernest Grant testified at a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, “Part 2: Protecting the Reliability of the U.S. Medical Supply Chain During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Dr. Grant was there to answer the many questions Senators had about the impact of COVID-19. Questions ranged from what more the federal government could do to strengthen the supply chain, to the needs of nurses on the ground.

ANA also responded on behalf of nurses to proposals outlined in a white paper released by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension (HELP) Committee. The Committee requested input on what the U.S. had learned from the past 20 years of public health preparedness and response, and how we can better prepare for future pandemics. ANA’s response focused on how to rebuild and maintain state and federal stockpiles, improving public health capabilities, and increasing medical supply surge capacity and distribution. 

ANA has been consistently present with effective advocacy on personal protective equipment (PPE), which has been in short supply all year. As a result, the enterprise was tapped as leadership of a broad-based the coalition that will be a united voice to Congress and the administration on PPE and supply chain issues, to improve public health.

As we pivot to start working with the incoming administration, ANA has hit the ground running, providing substantive recommendations to transition leaders, and applauding the appointment of a registered nurse to President-elect Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force. We have communicated the many ways in which ANA and nurses can be a resource to the transition and the upcoming administration. We continue to solidify relationships to ensure that ANA will maintain a strong voice in the White House and key agencies in the months ahead.

Like the rest of the Policy and Government Affairs team, the ANA Political Action Committee (ANA-PAC) experienced a very successful year in 2020 despite the multitude of challenges it faced at the start of the pandemic. For starters, the PAC continued its winning streak with a 95 percent win rate in the 2020 general election for the nearly 100 candidates the PAC supported based on their pro-nursing agendas. Members of ANA drove their support unlike in years passed to the tune of over 5,600 contributors to the PAC which was an increase of 34 percent over 2019 and counting! And it doesn’t stop there: the financial strength of the PAC continues to improve as receipts are up 3 percent over last year and this number only continues to grow as we head toward the year end. Policy and GOVA will be spending the early part of 2021 strategizing our support for our existing nursing champions and starting new outreach efforts to those new freshman members of Congress. Stay tuned for updates in the next ANA-PAC quarterly newsletter.

ANA advocacy on federal regulatory policy has also strengthened nurses and demonstrated the power of nurses’ voices. With the COVID-19 PHE extended until March 2021, Medicare payment flexibilities gained in 2020 will continue. A number of these provisions expand access to APRNs for non-COVID-19 care as well as COVID-19 care, which has been a boon to patients and their providers throughout the pandemic, especially in rural areas.

The readiness of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to remove regulatory barriers to practice has come as a result of direct advocacy over the years by ANA and partner organizations. The voices of frontline nurse providers were also heard, as CMS gathered first-hand accounts and created space to share this information on regular conference calls with nurses about the impacts of COVID-19 on their practice.

The pandemic has demonstrated the value of APRNs across the health care system, and CMS’ actions tell us that Medicare leaders are hearing us. The future is indeed bright, as CMS continues to review unnecessary barriers and craft regulatory relief. ANA policy leaders are right there, urging specific changes, and making a powerful case for making permanent changes to expand access to APRNs. We saw some success in the physician payment rule for 2021, which removed federal restrictions on APRN supervision of diagnostic tests.

CMS was not the only agency hearing nurses’ voices as important decisions were made. Early and often, ANA repeatedly called for steps to improve protections for frontline providers, including a return as soon as possible to pre-pandemic standards for PPE.

We made our case to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Minority Health at HHS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Government Accountability Office, and the White House Economic Advisors. ANA has become the “go to” organization for agency staff when they hear about events happening on the ground to work together to improve conditions for nurses. 

The pandemic made ANA’s presence even more valuable with the American Medical Association’s (AMA) RUC and CPT committees, which are the driving force for health care reimbursement. ANA CPT advisors were at the table when the CPT codes for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed. In a separate process, ANA advisors were consulted to account for increased practice expenses incurred during the pandemic. Throughout, ANA engaged feedback and comment from the nursing community. All of these accomplishments could not be done without the loud impassioned voice of our ANA members and RNAction advocates. This united voice sent nearly 460,000 letters to Congress, responded to public comments and engaged in several surveys where the results were presented to Congressional offices across Capitol Hill. All of the input from nurses, our nation’s most trusted profession for 18 straight years, directly impacted legislation and policy throughout the year. We have you to thank for that – your efforts on the frontlines, your expertise and your advocacy do not go unnoticed. With over 200,000 RNAction advocates, we are poised to improve the profession of nursing and conditions for your patients again in 2021.

LGBTQ+ Pride 2020 Highlights Continuing March Toward Equality

  

June has traditionally been celebrated in the United States as LGBTQ+ Pride month. This annual celebration commemorates the Stonewall riots, which began at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York City on June 28, 1969 and sparked the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. Like most else in 2020, this year’s Pride celebrations have taken on a different feel due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the nationwide protests demanding racial and social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25 (ANA adopted a Resolution on Racial Justice for Communities of Color on June 20). It is important to note that the LGBTQ+ rights movement and the racial justice movement are intertwined in complex ways (the civil rights movement is rightly credited for leading the way for the LGBTQ+ rights movement) and that many of this year’s Pride observances have occurred in support of and in solidarity with these nationwide protests.

This year’s Pride month also brought an unexpected bright spot for the LGBTQ+ movement. On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace; individuals can no longer legally be fired from their jobs due to their sexual orientation or the fact that they are transgender. This Supreme Court decision was a long-sought victory for the LGBTQ+ movement and signifies the hard-fought progress that has been made over the course of the past 50+ years.

Despite this progress, however, the LGBTQ+ community still faces significant barriers, particularly with respect to access to comprehensive healthcare. One need look no further than the administration’s June 12 finalization of a rule that rolls back healthcare protections for transgender individuals under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. The administration finalized this rule despite the fact that LGBTQ+ populations experience a significant rate of discrimination in healthcare settings, and experience increased negative health outcomes compared with the overall population. The reasons for this are complex and varied, but many stem from a pattern of societal stigma and discrimination exacerbated by the historical designation of homosexuality as a mental disorder, the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, religious prejudice with respect to homosexuality, and government policy such as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Negative health outcomes that disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ individuals include: increased instances of mood and anxiety disorders and depression, and an elevated risk for suicidal ideation and attempts; higher rates of smoking, alcohol use, and substance use; higher instances of stigma, discrimination, and violence; less frequent use of preventive health services; and increased levels of homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth. Men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women also experience significantly higher rates of HIV/AIDS infections, complications, and deaths; this burden falls particularly heavily on young, African-American MSM and transgender women. As noted above, this disease burden is itself known to contribute to discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. Transgender individuals also face particularly severe discrimination in healthcare settings.

Although Pride month draws to a close today, it is important to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities year-round and to remember that these communities experience unique health disparities 365 days a year. As the Code of Ethics for Nurses states, “The nurse practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and unique attributes of every person.” Nurses have often been on the frontlines of providing compassionate care to LGBTQ+ individuals – most notably at the outset of the HIV/AIDS crisis – and will no doubt remain in the vanguard of that care to ensure that these disparities are eliminated.

For additional resources on providing care and other health resources to LGBTQ+ individuals, please explore this guide from Drugwatch: https://www.drugwatch.com/health/lgbtq/

Photo Credit: Matt Charnock/SFist

COVID-19: Legislative and Regulatory Update

  

The American Nurses Association’s Policy and Government Affairs Department is committed to providing nurses with the most comprehensive and up-to-date information regarding the current legislative and regulatory developments related to addressing the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic. This information is current as of Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Topline Summary

  • On Wednesday, March 18, President Trump announced he would invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which gives the federal government broad powers to enlist private companies to help with national crises. The President mentioned masks, respirators and ventilators amongst the supplies for which DPA will be used to accelerate development.
  • On Friday, March 13, the administration declared a national emergency and the CDC published guidance to limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people and to avoid public places like bars and restaurants; several cities have implemented shelter in place orders.
  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued guidance to expand Medicare telehealth services for beneficiaries through providers including NPs and CRNAs; Medicaid approved the first emergency Medicaid waiver (Florida) to simplify access and coverage.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passed the second piece of supplemental legislation on Saturday, March 14; the U.S. Senate passed the second supplemental measure on Wednesday, March 18. The House and Senate are now negotiating the third supplemental package and ANA continues to monitor developments and engage with stakeholders.

General Update

On Friday, March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency under the Stafford Act in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of this writing, the United States has reported a total of 7,047 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 121 total deaths (a mortality rate of 1.72 percent among reported cases).

The latest guidance from the administration is to limit any gatherings to 10 or fewer people, and to avoid going out to public places like restaurants and bars.

  • As of March 16, 2020, 29 states have closed schools for at least two weeks.
  • Many other states have closed restaurants, bars, gyms, and other social gathering places.
  • San Francisco and the greater Bay Area has issued a shelter in place which restricts movement outside the home to only essential needs including the grocery store, pharmacy, and police.

Below are some of the legislative and regulatory actions that the administration and Congress have taken to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Legislative

On Saturday, March 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6201, the second supplemental legislation to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; the Senate passed this legislation on Wednesday, March 18. The House and Senate are currently negotiating a third supplemental economic relief measure. ANA is monitoring the negotiations and continuing its outreach on Capitol Hill.

H.R. 6201 (passed by both the House and Senate) seeks to:

  • Expand paid leave, food assistance and unemployment insurance and deliver additional Medicaid funding. The measure would provide tax credits to employers to offset the costs of providing emergency sick leave. It also would require insurers, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal health programs to fully cover testing without prior authorization and related services for the virus.
  • Provide emergency funding for several nutrition programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), as well as various federal health programs. The funds provided under the measure would be designated as emergency requirements and wouldn’t count against the discretionary spending cap for FY 2020.
  • Make personal respiratory protective devices a covered countermeasure under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (Public Law 109-148). The law allows HHS to provide liability protections for certain emergency response products.

Additionally, earlier in March, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the first supplemental legislation to address COVID-19. Included in that legislation is $3 billion to the development of treatments and coronavirus vaccine and $300 million to ensure individuals will have access to the vaccine regardless of their ability to pay.

To protect public health, the legislation allows Medicare providers to extend telemedicine services to beneficiaries regardless of where they live. The use of telehealth technologies to provide care can help reduce exposures and preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and other facility resources during this emergency.

Regulatory

Through the president’s declaration of a national emergency, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has issued guidance and taken actions to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries – which cover some of the nation’s most vulnerable populations – are able to receive care the care that they need in the safest manner possible.

The administration yesterday also announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage through Section 1135 waiver authority that will enable beneficiaries to receive a wider range of healthcare services from their clinician without having to travel to a healthcare facility. A range of healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries. Beneficiaries will be able to receive telehealth services in any healthcare facility including a clinician’s office, hospital, nursing home or rural health clinic, as well as from their homes.

Beginning on March 6, 2020, Medicare will temporarily pay clinicians to provide telehealth services for beneficiaries residing across the entire country. Prior to this announcement, Medicare was only allowed to pay clinicians for telehealth services such as routine visits in certain circumstances. For example, the beneficiary receiving the services must live in a rural area and travel to a local medical facility to get telehealth services from a doctor in a remote location. In addition, the beneficiary would generally not be allowed to receive telehealth services in their home.

The president’s national emergency declaration also allows CMS to approve Section 1135 waivers for state Medicaid programs. These waivers provide state and territorial Medicaid agencies a wider range of flexibilities to remove administrative burdens and expand access to needed services. CMS yesterday approved the first 1135 Medicaid waiver request (submitted by and approved for the State of Florida).

ANA Activity and Next Steps

ANA has prioritized the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is devoting significant resources to address it. ANA continues to work with other healthcare stakeholders, provider groups, the administration, and Congress, to ensure that the nation’s registered nurses and other healthcare providers on the front lines have access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) that meets OSHA safety standards. ANA also continues to work with these partners to ensure that the U.S. healthcare system maintains the capacity to treat anyone experiencing serious, severe, or extreme symptoms of COVID-19, particularly those in at-risk populations.