Healthcare News & Insights

How new 21st Century Cures Act impacts hospitals

President Obama has just signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The bipartisan bill, which aims to improve access and treatment for various kinds of care, has several implications for hospitals in 2017 and beyond. 

An article from the Advisory Board sums up some of the most significant changes for facilities going forward.

One big win for hospitals: Hospital outpatient departments that were under construction before Nov. 5, 2015 are now exempt from Medicare pay cuts scheduled to happen under the new Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) in 2017.

Another positive development for hospitals involves the feds’ readmissions reduction initiative.

As part of the new law, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) must now take patients’ socioeconomic status into account when determining how well hospitals are doing with preventing readmissions. This is especially beneficial for hospitals that treat poorer patients, since these patients often have issues with access to care and other resources that negatively impact their health.

Money for health research

In addition to these changes, there may also be more funding available for facilities to participate in various health-related initiatives.

The 21st Century Cures Act authorizes the feds to set aside $1 billion over two years for initiatives designed to prevent opioid abuse, and an additional $4.8 billion over the next decade for biomedical research, including $1.8 billion to fight cancer.

And thanks to the bill, hospitals may have more alternatives to drugs and medical devices available over the coming years, which could help with the rising costs of medications.

The 21st Century Cures Act allocates $500 million for the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to:

  • speed up its process for approving drugs and devices
  • increase patient participation in approval efforts, and
  • streamline reviews of products that are both drugs and devices.

The FDA will also receive funding to speed up reviews and approvals of breakthrough medical devices and regenerative advanced therapies (such as stem-cell therapy).

Better mental health care

Mental illness is another big focus of the new law, and some provisions may make it easier for hospitals to handle patients with psychiatric issues. Under the act, patients with Medicare will be covered for short-term hospital stays due to severe mental illnesses.

Additionally, there will be more coordination for mental health care on the federal side. Currently, eight federal agencies oversee over 100 different programs involving patients’ mental health. The bill streamlines this structure, which may make it easier for hospitals to know where to direct patients who need additional resources.

Health IT updates

The new law places focus on several areas of health IT – most notably, interoperability for electronic health records (EHR) systems.

EHR developers will now be required to use open application program interfaces (APIs), which makes it easier for systems to be customized for individual hospitals and providers. They’ll also have to test the interoperability of their systems in real-world environments – and they’ll have to directly state that they won’t block communications between other EHRs.

Other IT-related developments include exempting doctors who primarily practice at ambulatory surgery centers from the requirements of the revamped meaningful use program and allowing documentation by scribes to qualify under EHR requirements.

Relationship building

According to an article in Hospitals & Health Networks about the 21st Century Cures Act, many of these changes require hospital executives to work closely with a variety of medical professionals to make the most positive impact on their facilities, including pharmacists, physician leaders, EHR vendors, IT employees and mental health pros.

Once 2017 begins, it’s important for healthcare execs to strengthen their relationships with these professionals to use the law’s new provisions to make changes that improve patient outcomes and hospital performance.

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