On June 30, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed regulation establishing the Conditions of Participation (CoPs) for a new hospital provider type, Rural Emergency Hospitals (REHs). The REH concept was first developed by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) and subsequently mandated by Congress through the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021 to address the growing concern over closures of rural hospitals.
REHs provide an opportunity for Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) and rural hospitals to improve the way care is delivered in their communities, maintain access, and avert potential closure by choosing to focus on the service offerings that are most essential to their communities, such as emergency services, observation care, and additional medical, behavioral, and maternal outpatient services. Importantly, the REH concept enables facilities to maintain a hospital designation absent inpatient capacity thereby ensuring that rural communities retain access to services. This proposed regulation is a significant milestone in CMS’ work to implement the REH designation and their novel payment methodology by their mandated start date of January 1, 2023.
The REH concept is expected to help address the observed health inequities that arise when rural communities lack access to hospitals and other providers. Obtaining an REH designation could be an opportunity for many independent hospitals and delivery systems to strategically reshape themselves in line with their community’s needs while receiving payments from Medicare for doing so.
Within CMS’ proposed regulation, the agency proposes to establish a novel set of REH CoPs which will define the parameters of the REH designation. The REH CoPs closely align with the current CAH CoPs in most cases, while considering the uniqueness of REHs and the statutory requirements. In some instances, the proposed REH policies closely align to the current hospital and ambulatory surgical center standards, such as the polices for outpatient services’ requirements and life safety code, respectively.
As a part of this proposed regulation, CMS seeks input from the rural community on a few key aspects of the REH designation, including:
- The specific proposed REH standards, including the ability of an REH to provide low-risk childbirth-related labor and delivery services and whether the agency should require REHs to provide outpatient surgical services in the event that surgical labor and delivery intervention is necessary.
- Whether it is appropriate for an REH to allow a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist, with training or experience in emergency medicine, to be on call and immediately available by telephone or radio contact and available on site within specified timeframes.
Updates to CoPs for Critical Access Hospitals
Also within this draft regulation CMS proposes to update the CoPs for CAHs by: (1) adding a definition of primary roads to the location and distance requirements; (2) establishing a patient’s rights CoP; and (3) allowing CAHs that are a part of a larger health system (containing other hospitals and/or CAHs) to unify and integrate their infection control and prevention and antibiotic stewardship programs, medical staff, and quality assessment and performance improvement programs (known as QAPI) to ensure consistent and safe care.
CMS is accepting comments on this rule until August 29, 2022. CMS intends to propose additional policies related to Medicare enrollment, payment, and quality reporting in the upcoming Calendar Year 2023 Outpatient Prospective Payment System/Ambulatory Surgery Center proposed rule. CMS will develop final policies for this program later this year.
For more information about this proposed regulation including how to submit comments and how the REH concept may impact the hospital industry and patients in rural communities please contact our Medicare team who have knowledge in Congressional, MedPAC and CMS policy and operations – Zach Gaumer (HMA Principal) ([email protected]), Amy Bassano (HMA Managing Director, lMedicare) ([email protected]), or Andrea Maresca (HMA Principal) ([email protected]). To access CMS’s proposed Rural Emergency Hospital and Critical Access Hospital Conditions of Participation, visit: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/current.