This week’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) update is a little indirect, in that it’s actually a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) update.
Last Tuesday, CMS announced that nursing homes are required to test their staff and offer to test their residents when a COVID-19 outbreak occurs. Facilities that don’t test adequately can be fined. These new requirements follow the recent large-scale distribution of antigen tests to nursing homes, a move I’ve discussed in previous issues. It is still unclear, however, how exactly the results of all this testing will be reported. While the CMS COVID-19 dataset includes some new fields on testing this week, these are primarily yes/no fields, such as “Tested Asymptomatic Staff and/or Personnel Facility-Wide After a New Case.” Actual test counts are not yet reported.
The new CMS directive is also notable in that it includes new reporting directives for hospitals and COVID-19 labs. Hospitals were already required to report their COVID-19 patients, PPE needs, and other metrics to HHS, but now they are extra required to report them:
In March, Vice President Mike Pence sent a letter to all hospitals requesting that they provide the results of COVID-19 tests performed in their in-house laboratories to help better understand and track disease patterns. CMS’ new rules require such reporting of test results in order to ensure a more complete picture in the nationwide surveillance of COVID-19, as well as a more efficient allocation of PPE and other vital supplies. Hospitals will face possible termination of Medicare and Medicaid payment if unable to correct reporting deficiencies.
Outside laboratories conducting COVID-19 tests can similarly face monetary penalties if they fail to report to HHS: CMS will impose a fine of $1,000 a day for the first day a lab fails to report and $500 for each subsequent day. I and other folks at the COVID Tracking Project will be watching carefully to see how this directive impacts the completeness and accuracy of HHS data.