Published: March 12, 2020; Last Updated: March 23, 2020
New Century Health is closely monitoring the outbreak and spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization and a national emergency under the Stafford Act, the virus may pose a more serious risk to individuals with underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. This Resource Center was created to support your efforts to protect the health of the public, patients, physicians and other staff members with resources from federal agencies, as well as professional societies in our partners’ fields of oncology and cardiology.
We encourage you to frequently check these resources to ensure you have the most up-to-date guidance. You should also be aware of announcements, legal requirements and guidance issued by your state and locality, as they may vary.
Review the latest information on:
- COVID-19 Resources for High-Risk Populations. Considerations for individuals with underlying illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
- COVID-19 Clinical and Technical Guidance. Protecting patients and health care professionals
- Coding, Coverage and Reimbursement. ICD-10 codes, plan flexibility and more
- Additional Important Policy Updates. Impact on APMs and quality measurement, new federal funding, telehealth flexibility and guidance for states
Resources for High-Risk Populations
- The American Society of Clinical Oncology's (ASCO) Coronavirus Resources site includes FAQs, answering questions such as whether to consider less intensive treatment for certain groups of patients, and whether to hold chemotherapy for patients currently on treatment so their immune systems can reconstitute themselves. ASCO's patient information site, Cancer.net, has also published an overview of what people with cancer need to know about COVID-19.
- The Oncology Nursing Society's coronavirus website provides a variety of resources to manage the outbreak, such as guidance for conducting telephone triage, conducting telehealth visits and managing shortages of personal protective equipment.
- The National Comprehensive Cancer Network is also compiling coronavirus-related resources from its member institutions, such as screening tools and patient education materials.
- The Community Oncology Alliance has launched a COVID-19 email list serv for all health care professionals to help prevent and treat the disease. The Alliance has also compiled clinician and administrator tools, patient-facing materials and other resources.
- While procedures for most cancers should not be postponed, providers should consider delaying procedures for low-risk cancers, CMS advises in clinical guidance on elective surgery. Endoscopies and colonoscopies are among the procedures that should be postponed.
- How are cancer programs protecting their patients from the virus? The Advisory Board rounded up the tactics being used by several facilities.
- Experts from two cancer centers in hard-hit Seattle share lessons from their experiences treating patients with cancer during the COVID-19 outbreak in a free online article in Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. “To many of us, this has become the health care challenge of our generation, one that modern cancer therapy has never had to face,” they write.
- Meanwhile, The Lancet Oncology has published findings from China that COVID-19 patients with cancer had higher rates of severe events, including death (39%), than those without cancer (8%). The article is also open access.
- The American College of Cardiology (ACC) developed its COVID-19 Hub to educate the cardiovascular care teams who will be on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Clinical guidance provided by the ACC covers several topics, including: the acute cardiac complications associated with COVID-19; the clinical implications for patients with underlying cardiac conditions; and recommendations for preparing cardiac care teams to treat patients with COVID-19. Other ACC resources on the hub include webinars on managing patients with the disease and recent research from areas hard-hit by COVID-19.
- Most cardiovascular elective services were among types of procedures that CMS urged providers to consider postponing in clinical guidance. The guidance seeks to reduce spread of the virus while preserving capacity and equipment. The president of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Intervention also recommended against elective cardiac procedures, and also issued recommendations for managing myocardial infarction (heart attack) in patients with confirmed or possible COVID-19.
- For patient-friendly educational content, visit the American Heart Association’s Coronavirus Resources page or the ACC's CardioSmart site.
COVID-19 Clinical and Technical Guidance
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a virtual Situation Room as a helpful resource for regular updates on this global situation. Specific guidance for health care professionals includes:
- What health care personnel should know about caring for patients with confirmed or possible COVID-19 infection
- Limiting Elective Surgeries And Procedures
CMS has issued new guidance on limiting non-essential adult elective surgery and medical and surgical procedures, including all dental procedures, during the COVID-19 response. These actions are intended to reduce spread of the virus and preserve essential medical equipment and capacity.
- Medicare Provider Enrollment Relief Related to COVID-19
CMS has issued an FAQ document on new provider enrollment flexibilities in Medicare, including toll-free hotline numbers available to provide expedited enrollment and answer questions related to COVID-19 enrollment requirements.
Coding, Coverage and Reimbursement
HCPCS Billing Codes
Starting in April, laboratories testing for COVID-19 can bill Medicare and other health insurers for services that occurred after February 4, 2020, using the newly created HCPCS code (U0001). This code is only to be used for the tests developed by the CDC. Labs performing non-CDC tests for SARS-CoV-2/2019-nCoV (COVID-19) can bill for them using a different HCPCS code (U0002). Local Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) recently published payment amounts for claims they receive for the new HCPCS codes in their respective jurisdictions until CMS establishes national payment rates. They are approximately $36 for the CDC test and $51 for the non-CDC test. These prices may vary slightly depending on the local MAC. (See test pricing data sheet.) As with other laboratory tests, there is no beneficiary cost sharing under Original Medicare.
The new ICD-10-CM code U07.1 COVID-19, will take effect in the U.S. on April 1, six months earlier than was originally planned. The CDC cited the unprecedented nature of the pandemic for the off-cycle update. Per the World Health Organization, the official name of the virus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), while the name of the disease it causes is coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
CPT Coding for Lab Tests
The American Medical Association approved a new CPT code for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) lab testing, effective March 13. See the CPT assistant guide for detailed information.
Plan Design Flexibility
CMS issued a memo to Medicare Advantage organizations, Part D plan sponsors and Medicare-Medicaid plans on the flexibilities they can exercise under state disaster or emergency declarations to waive certain requirements to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These flexibilities include:
- Waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests
- Waiving cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments in doctor's offices or emergency rooms and services delivered via telehealth
- Removing prior authorization requirements
- Waiving prescription refill limits
- Relaxing restrictions on home or mail delivery of prescription drugs
- Expanding access to certain telehealth services
Other Coverage Resources
To ensure the public has clear information on coverage and benefits under CMS programs, the agency also released three fact sheets that cover diagnostic laboratory tests, immunizations and vaccines, telemedicine, drugs and cost-sharing policies.
- Medicare Fact Sheet Highlights. In addition to the diagnostic tests described above, Medicare covers all medically necessary hospitalizations, as well as brief "virtual check-ins," which allows patients and their doctors to connect by phone or video chat. Medicare beneficiaries living in rural areas may use communication technology to have full visits with their physicians. Next Generation ACOs and Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs with prospectively aligned beneficiaries may utilize telehealth waivers to increase virtual visits. See "New Telehealth Flexibilities" below for more on recent Medicare telehealth expansions available to providers.
- Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) Fact Sheet Highlights. Testing and diagnostic services are commonly covered services, and laboratory and x-ray services are a mandatory benefit covered and reimbursed in all states. States are required to provide both inpatient and outpatient hospital services to beneficiaries. All states provide coverage of hospital care for children and pregnant women enrolled in CHIP. Specific questions on covered benefits can be directed to the respective state Medicaid and CHIP agency.
- Individual and Small Group Market Insurance Coverage. Existing federal rules governing health insurance coverage, including with respect to viral infections, apply to the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. This includes plans purchased through HealthCare.gov. Patients can contact their insurer to determine specific benefits and coverage policies. Benefit and coverage details may vary by state and by plan. States may choose to work with plans and issuers to determine the coverage and cost-sharing parameters for COVID-19 related diagnoses, treatments, equipment, telehealth and home health services and other related costs. Also see this FAQ document on essential health benefits.
Additional Important Policy Updates
Impact on Alternative Payment Models and Quality Measurement
CMS has announced it is granting exceptions and extensions from various quality reporting requirements in Medicare. These policies include extending the quality reporting deadlines for Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs and the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) from March 31, 2020 to April 30, 2020. MIPS-eligible clinicians who do not submit any MIPS data by the April deadline will qualify for the automatic extreme and uncontrollable circumstances policy and will receive a neutral payment adjustment for the 2021 MIPS payment year. Other hospital and post-acute care program exceptions and extensions are detailed in the announcement.
CMS is currently evaluating other relief options for APMs and QPP participants in 2020. The CMS Center for Medicare (CM) and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) have reported that they are working on additional guidance for ACOs and CMMI model participants given COVID-19 concerns and new flexibilities available to providers. We are actively communicating with CMS about the needs and concerns of our partners and will provide updates as new guidance is released.
The federal government has enacted two major relief bills in response to the pandemic. On March 6, 2020 the president signed an $8.3 billion emergency supplemental spending bill to combat the virus. The legislation includes $3 billion for vaccine R&D, $2.2 billion for the CDC (including $950 million to support state and local agencies), $836 million for the NIH and $61 million for the FDA. More than $400 million will be disbursed to states within the first 30 days of the bill's enactment, with each state receiving no less than $4 million. In addition, on March 13 President Trump declared a national emergency under the Stafford Act, which authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist state and local governments and allows HHS to waive certain regulations and laws to more quickly deliver testing and care for coronavirus patients. FEMA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, controls $50 billion in federal funding set aside by Congress for disaster relief. FEMA could potentially use that funding to help build medical facilities and transport patients, among other measures.
The second major COVID-19 relief bill was enacted on March 18. In addition to requiring employers with 500 or fewer employees to provide more comprehensive sick and family leave benefits related to the pandemic, the package includes a 6.2% increase in state Medicaid matching funds. This could help to limit provider reimbursement cuts at a time when they are forced to delay high-margin procedures and provide more uncompensated care. The bill also seeks to remove financial barriers to COVID diagnosis by requiring that insurers pay for COVID-19 testing and related visits, as well as provide $1 billion to reimburse providers for costs of testing uninsured individuals.
Congress is debating a third relief bill, a massive economic stimulus package, as of March 23.
New Telehealth Flexibilities
CMS has issued new guidance for providers on temporary expanded Medicare telehealth benefits under the 1135 waiver authority, the coronavirus emergency supplemental spending bill and the national emergency declaration. Under this waiver, Medicare can pay for telehealth services in any health care facility, including a physician's office, hospital, nursing home or rural health clinic, as well as from a patient's home, effective March 6, 2020. A range of providers including physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to their patients under this temporary waiver. Additionally, the HHS Office of Inspector General is providing flexibility for health care providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal health care programs. Prior to this waiver, Medicare could only pay for telehealth on a limited basis: when the person receiving the service is in a designated rural area and when they received such services from an "originating site," such as a clinic, hospital or other eligible medical facility. Next Generation ACO waivers provided exceptions to these rules, allowing telehealth to be provided to aligned Medicare beneficiaries regardless of originating site or geography. MSSP regulations also provided exceptions to these rules, allowing telehealth to be provided to prospectively aligned Medicare beneficiaries regardless of geography, and allowing the originating site to be the patient's home.
In CMS's Fact Sheet and FAQ document on these new telehealth flexibilities, CMS provides clear guidance for providers on how they can provide and bill for Medicare telehealth visits, virtual check-ins and e-visits. The HHS Office for Civil Rights has announced it will exercise enforcement discretion and waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers who serve patients in good faith through nonpublic everyday communications technologies, such as FaceTime or Skype, during this nationwide public health emergency. Providers are encouraged to notify patients that these third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications. Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok and similar video communication applications are public facing, and should not be used in the provision of telehealth by covered health care providers.
These new flexibilities are designed to ensure Medicare beneficiaries, who are at a higher risk for COVID-19, are able to visit with their doctor from their home without having to go to a doctor's office or hospital, which puts themselves or others at risk. This change broadens telehealth flexibility without regard to the diagnosis of the beneficiary and is consistent with guidance from the CDC on practicing social distancing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. This change will help prevent vulnerable beneficiaries from unnecessarily entering a health care facility when their needs can be met remotely.
Guidance for States
CMS has produced several checklists, fact sheets and other tools aimed at making it easier for states to receive federal waivers and implement existing flexibilities in their Medicaid and CHIP programs. These could be used for a range of activities, including temporarily expanding certain services and coverage, easing certain requirements for providers or patients, or increasing provider reimbursement, among other temporary changes.
The new resources include a Fact Sheet on Medicaid Telehealth Flexibilities (pursuant to state laws). States are not required to submit a state plan amendment (SPA) to pay for telehealth services if payments for services furnished via telehealth are made in the same manner as when the service is furnished in a face-to-face setting. A state would need an approved state plan payment methodology (and thus, might need to submit a SPA) to establish rates or payment methodologies for telehealth services that differ from those applicable for the same services furnished in a face-to-face setting. The fact sheet includes example SPA language.