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 HHS Secretary Azar Champions Sector in Evolving Health Care System

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar on June 5 said long term and post-acute care (LT/PAC) providers will play a “key role” in a future health care system that values high-quality outcomes, features interoperability of medical records across the care continuum, and keeps consumers informed and educated as they select their care.

Azar explained this vision of a remodeled health care system to the annual Congressional Briefing fly-in for members of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) in Washington, D.C. The foundation of the evolving health care market is one is built on improving health information technology across the care spectrum; transparency on price and quality factors; new payment models; and promotion of integrated, coordinated care, he said.

The HHS head also said the Trump administration is working on making the health care system more efficient through its “patients over paperwork” initiative to cut down on red tape and allow providers to spend more time on care and less on meeting regulatory requirements. Thus far, some 4 million hours of paperwork have been eliminated through this effort, Azar said.

For LT/PAC providers, he said the focus must remain on reducing readmissions to hospitals as well as embracing the concepts of a new value-based care payment model for skilled nursing facilities, the Patient-Driven Payment Model (PDPM).

Saying the status quo is not an answer, Azar said the PDPM is a “positive” step for providers. He also noted that the draft proposal is part of a process in which stakeholders can give input before the new model is finalized.

Finally, he said the administration has made combatting the nation’s opioids epidemic a top priority, one in which all providers must play a role.

“The opioids crisis is an example of how rapidly the health care landscape can change,”Azar said, in commenting on how LT/PAC providers have not traditionally dealt with the issues but now must aid in tapering off the use of such drugs to prevent addiction, abuse, and drug diversion.

Later in the AHCA/NCAL program, the association awarded Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) with the Leading Light of Long Term Care Award. AHCA/NCAL gives this award to policymakers who demonstrate leadership by seeking positive solutions for the seniors and individuals with disability who rely on long term care.   

“Sen. Cardin is not only a health care expert on Capitol Hill, he truly understands the issues we deal with in long term care,” said AHCA/NCAL President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson. “The permanent therapy cap solution would never have become law without his leadership, and we thank him for being a champion for the millions we serve.”

Cardin was a long-time advocate of finding a permanent solution to the therapy caps exception process.

“From his days in the House of Representatives in the early 2000s, he routinely introduced legislation to permanently end therapy caps, and worked tirelessly to get similar language in larger health and budget legislation,” AHCA/NCAL said. “That problem was fixed earlier this year in the Bipartisan Budget Act, which repealed Medicare Part B outpatient therapy caps retroactively to Jan. 1, 2018.”

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