6 COVID-19 updates for ASC leaders

Here are six COVID-19 updates for ASC leaders to know:

1. A new role for ASCs. On March 30, CMS unveiled a "hospitals without walls" initiative allowing ASCs to enroll as hospitals during the emergency declaration. The move allows surgery centers to perform cases that would otherwise be limited to inpatient facilities, thereby freeing up COVID-19 treatment capacity. Surgery centers are instructed to coordinate with local planning officials to ensure they're appropriately staffed for these atypical cases. Other relief efforts by ASCs include serving as screening or testing sites and donating essential supplies.

2. Workforce restructuring. Elective procedure restrictions implemented in more than 30 states have led to sharp drops in patient volumes. Forced to forgo an important revenue stream, surgery centers are laying off or furloughing employees, while CEOs and physician leaders are taking pay cuts or temporarily eliminating their salaries. One in four Americans have either lost their job or taken a pay cut, and an additional 9 percent expect to find themselves in that same situation, according to a recent CNBC survey of 800 people.

3. Provider payments. CMS announced that Medicare providers and suppliers can apply for accelerated or advance payments during the public health emergency, and UnitedHealth Group is taking similar action. The insurer is accelerating nearly $2 billion in payments and financial support to U.S. healthcare providers through its UnitedHealthcare and Optum subsidiaries. Small practices may be eligible for additional financing under the federal government's $2 trillion stimulus package. Meanwhile, a Texas surgical group is suing its insurance company for refusing to cover business losses related to COVID-19, and private practitioners in Vermont are lobbying state legislators for financial relief.

4. Personal protective equipment shortage mitigation. McKesson, Cardinal Health, Henry Schein and Medline are part of a joint effort led by the federal government to rapidly manufacture, source and distribute PPE and COVID-19 treatments (although testing accuracy has been called into question). The federal government's efforts to mitigate PPE shortages also include seizing and distributing more than 900,000 hoarded medical supplies. Medline, in addition to using its Wisconsin plant for hand sanitizer production, is working to sanitize 100,000 N95 masks a day with demand for medical supplies up 300 percent. In a separate effort to support front-line providers, Amazon has stopped selling critical supplies to the general public.

5. Guidelines for reporting. CMS issued new guidance for outpatient clinical settings that includes recommendations for screening, visitor restrictions, disinfection and closures. CMS is also scaling back regulations in several areas, including the ASC Quality Reporting Program, to ease the burden on providers battling the COVID-19 crisis. The ASC Quality Reporting Program deadlines for submitting data from the fourth quarter of 2019 are now optional. In contrast, Tennessee Sen. Steve Dickerson, MD, R-Nashville, suggested required reporting of COVID-19 diagnoses among ASC staff could be beneficial.

6. Telemedicine adoption. Seventy-five percent of medical practices and clinics surveyed by medical technology company Kareo are either using a telemedicine solution or plan to deploy one soon. Rockford-based OrthoIllinois was already building up its telemedicine program before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but the crisis "fast-forwarded everything," said orthopedic surgeon Geoff Van Thiel, MD. With such a rapid shift to virtual care, the American College of Gastroenterology created a guide to establishing telemedicine services.

 More articles on surgery centers:
ASCs could get financial relief under $2 trillion stimulus law — 4 things to know
Can ASCs help with the COVID-19 surge?
California's 750+ ASCs prepare to expand services for COVID-19 surge 

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