Pandemic-induced waived restrictions on Medicare admissions to CHC ContinueCARE’s Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals (LTACHs) have proved to be a highly effective tool in improving patient outcomes, relieving strained resources on local healthcare systems, and providing a healthier environment for their communities overall.
Since the government lifted restrictions removing payment barriers to LTACHs and provided more funding for patient care last year, LTACHs have served as a relief valve to handle patient overflow from traditional Short Term Acute Care Hospitals. In many communities, LTACHs admitted patients from hospitals overwhelmed from the surge of COVID-19 patients requiring extensive hospitalization of several weeks or more.
The waived rules are part of legislation known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which helped expand patient access as a means of increasing hospital capacity by waiving prior restrictions on admission requirements.
The waivers removed certain restrictions that typically prohibit LTACHs from receiving the full standard rate for their services. The waivers eliminated the need for LTACH patients to meet an average length of stay greater than 25 days, spend at least three days in an ICU unit, or satisfy a required number of hours (96) on a ventilation machine in an LTACH.
The federal government’s temporary waiver of these requirements has allowed CHC ContinueCARE LTACHs and other similar facilities across the country to provide quicker and specialized clinical care of severely-ill COVID patients, helping limit the disease’s impact on patients, hospitals and the communities they serve.
For example, one Texas hospital reported it was 170 percent over its ICU capacity, while another was forced to put patients in ambulances because of a shortage of hospital beds. CHC ContinueCARE Texas LTACHs also have treated large numbers of COVID patients, with one of its hospitals admitting more than 200 virus-stricken patients during 2020.
April Myers, CHC’s Senior Vice President of Post Acute Operations, commented: “The waived Medicare restrictions on LTACH admissions represent a true game-changer in terms of our ability to provide the best possible care to many patients who require long-term hospitalization due to this outbreak. We are hopeful that the government will keep the waivers in place, as it would allow LTACHs to continue to provide the level of care deemed essential to maintaining the highest quality of public health in a pandemic and post-pandemic environment.”
The waived rules, which are reviewed quarterly, will remain in effect as long as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continues to declare the pandemic as a national public health emergency. The next quarterly meeting on the waived rules is expected in the latter part of April.
While it’s uncertain if the government will retain all or part of the waived rules, there’s no doubt that suspending the requirements allowed LTACHs to step up and fill a vital need during the pandemic while showcasing how LTACHs are uniquely equipped to effectively treat critically ill, complex and medically fragile patients.
For instance, CHC’s LTACHs have freed up patient bed capacity at host or referral hospitals, which allowed them to better treat COVID patients and patients suffering from other ailments.
Physicians and other healthcare workers who refer patients to CHC ContinueCARE LTACHs praised their assistance in the pandemic. They said their hospitals would have struggled to provide adequate care to an influx of COVID-infected patients if LTACHs hadn’t helped with some of these medically complex patient admissions.
The LTACHs also had positive patient outcomes weaning a higher percentage of their COVID patients off ventilators during the pandemic and demonstrating that long term care hospitals provide a unique level of care and clinical focus.
CEOs of CHC ContinueCARE hospitals also have been aggressively contacting their congressional representatives to inform them of how LTACHs have greatly benefited their communities in the pandemic. Healthcare industry groups also have been supportive of keeping the waivers intact. In fact, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) recommended that the federal government increase LTACH’s 2021 Medicare-based payment rate by 2 percent.
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Community Hospital Corporation owns, manages and consults with hospitals through CHC Hospitals, CHC Consulting and CHC ContinueCARE, with the common purpose to guide, support and enhance the mission of community hospitals and healthcare providers. Based in Plano, Texas, CHC provides the resources and experience community hospitals need to improve quality outcomes, patient satisfaction and financial performance. For more information about CHC, please visit www.communityhospitalcorp.com.