Top News Stories for the Week of April 27

CMS Suspends Advance Payment Program to Clinicians for COVID-19 Relief

Medscape

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Sunday that it is suspending its Advance Payment Program to Medicare Part B suppliers, effective immediately and reevaluating the amounts that will be paid under its Accelerated Payment Program. The agency said it will no longer accept new applications for the advanced Medicare payment, and it will re-evaluate all pending and new applications "in light of historical direct payments made available through the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Provider Relief Fund." Since March, CMS has approved more than 21,000 applications for advanced Medicare payment, for more than $59 billion, for hospitals and other organizations that bill its Part A program. The agency has also approved nearly 24,000 applications for its Part B program, with more than $40 billion going to physicians, other clinicians, and medical equipment suppliers. Meanwhile, Congress has provided $100 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and $75 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act.

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Abbott's Fast COVID Test Poses Safety Issues, Lab Workers Say

Kaiser Health News

The Trump administration has frequently promoted Abbott Laboratories' rapid coronavirus test, which requires medical workers or patients themselves to swab the patient's nasal cavity to collect a specimen. The Department of Health and Human Services says only gloves and a face mask are necessary to administer the test. Abbott's instructions also call for workers to "vigorously mix" the swab with liquid in an open vessel in Abbott's machine for 10 seconds. Michael Pentella, head of Iowa's state public health lab who chairs the Association of Public Health Laboratories' (APHL) biosafety and biosecurity committee, says: "This is the only test I know of where you take the swab and you put it back in the paper wrapping. It's the contamination that could be associated with the wrapper that has some biosafety professionals concerned." The APHL committee intends to issue safety recommendations for lab workers who handled the product. A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene similarly says officials are concerned about biosafety and contamination because of how the test is performed, noting its open structure could contaminate the person performing the test as well as the area around the machine. HHS initially purchased 30,000 Abbott tests to distribute nationwide, of which approximately 13,500 went to public health labs plus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) central lab in Atlanta, according to a department spokeswoman. The Indian Health Service received 10,000 tests, and roughly 5,000 were set aside for CDC's International Reagent Resource.

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Trump Administration Has Enough Tests for 2 Percent of Each State's Population, Official Says

Wall Street Journal

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration official overseeing COVID-19 testing efforts, says the federal government can send all 50 states sufficient tests to screen at least 2 percent of residents for COVID-19, the minimum needed to maintain public health. However, experts say more is necessary. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, says: "It's about 6 to 7 million, and if that's one-time, that doesn't do anything." Experts would prefer testing 4 million or more people tested per week nationwide to cover a significant percentage of the population. States including Georgia and New York have already tested more than 2 percent of their populations. To date, roughly 5.4 million Americans have been tested for COVID-19, according to the COVID Tracking Project, or about 1.6 percent of the population. Labs nationwide are currently processing about 1 million tests per week. President Trump on Monday met with the leaders of major retailers, pharmacy chains, and testing labs, including Walmart and CVS Health, and the White House issued what it described as a blueprint for its testing plans.

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