Proposed CMS Rule Could Require Hospitals to Report Employee COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

The proposal would also distribute 1000 additional physician residency slots to hospitals in rural areas in an effort to address gaps in equitable care.

A proposed new rule by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services looks to build the medical workforce in rural communities and address equity care gaps. One provision of the rule could require hospitals to report COVID-19 vaccination rates among their workers to contain the spread of the virus, according to a press release.

“CMS recognizes the importance of encouraging more health professionals to work in rural hospitals and underserved areas, and the need to retain and train high-quality physicians to help address access to health care in these communities,” the agency said in the press release.

In an effort to address these issues, the proposal would distribute 1000 additional physician residency slots to qualifying hospitals in rural areas, phasing in 200 slots per year over 5 years. According to the press release, CMS estimates that the additional funding will total approximately $0.3 billion each year once fully phased in. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, JD, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the need for rural hospitals.

“Hospitals are often the backbone of rural communities—but the COVID-19 pandemic has hit rural hospitals hard, and too many are struggling to stay afloat,” Becerra said in the press release. “This rule will give hospitals more relief and additional tools to care for COVID-19 patients and it will also bolster the health care workforce in rural and underserved communities.”

In addition to the effort to increase rural medical personnel, the proposed rule could adopt the COVID-19 Vaccination Coverage Among Healthcare Personnel (HCP) Measure to require hospitals to report COVID-19 vaccinations of workers in their facilities. The measure is designed to assess whether hospitals are taking meaningful steps to limit the spread of COVID-19, reduce the risk of transmission in their facilities, help sustain the ability of hospitals to serve their communities during public health emergencies, and assess the country’s long-term recovery and readiness efforts.

The rule could also modify the Promoting Interoperability program requirements for eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals by requiring hospitals to report on all 4 of the following measures: Syndromic Surveillance Reporting, Immunization Registry Reporting, Electronic Case Reporting, and Electronic Reportable Laboratory Result Reporting.

Strengthening public health functions is essential to long-term COVID-19 recovery as well as preparation for future health threats, according to the press release. Reporting on the 4 measures, therefore, can strengthen functions such as early warning surveillance, case surveillance, and vaccine uptake. Requiring these measures would enable nationwide syndromic surveillance for early warning of emerging outbreaks, according to the press release.

REFERENCE

CMS proposes to enhance the medical workforce in rural and underserved communities to support COVID-19 recovery and beyond [news release]. CMS; April 27, 2021. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-proposes-enhance-medical-workforce-rural-and-underserved-communities-support-covid-19-recovery. Accessed April 30, 2021.