CMS Administrator Seema Verma

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced sweeping regulatory changes Tuesday afternoon for nursing homes and other providers dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks.

Nursing homes will have to test staff and offer testing to residents, while labs and nursing facilities using point-of-care testing must report diagnostic test results, CMS said in a mid-afternoon press conference.

The announcements added breadth to a story McKnight’s Long-Term Care News first reported earlier today, based on a report in the New York Post.

Surveyors can cite facilities for non-compliance with the new regulations. Providers would also be required to implement a plan of correction. The enforcement of sanctions will be based on the severity of noncompliance, CMS Administrator Seema Verma noted.

Fines for non-compliance will start at $400 per day and can range to $8,000, with termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs the ultimate threat. Providers could also face denial of payment for new admissions.

Nursing homes will also have to provide tests to residents during all outbreaks, or when residents show any symptoms of COVID-19.

The new stipulations come under provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The interim final rule became effective Tuesday, said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. Full details from CMS of the effects on nursing homes, labs, hospitals and physicians can be found here.

“These new rules represent a dramatic acceleration of our efforts to track and control the spread of COVID-19,” Verma said. “Reporting of test results and other data are vitally important tools for controlling the spread of the virus and give providers on the front lines what they need to fight it.”

Verma said more formal designations of the new rule-making, including frequency of testing, which will be based on levels of COVID-19 in the greater community, will come in sub-regulatory guidance issued later this week.

Verma said to expect testing based on positivity rates in the greater geographic area. If the positivity rate is below 5% in the surrounding county, for example, testing would be required once a month. If it’s 5% to 10%, testing would be required once a week. For rates above that, testing would be mandated twice a week.

A formal announcement about $2.5 billion in funding for testing is also expected from the Department of Health and Human Services later this week, Verma said.

Delivery of point-of-care testing units should be completed by the end of September, HHS officials added during the press conference. Users, including labs and providers, will be required to report diagnostic results. Fines for not doing so will start at $1,000 for the initial infraction, and daily $500 fines thereafter. Labs will have an initial three-week grace period to begin reporting required test data, CMS said.

Earlier in the day, CMS released details of a new, “unprecedented” infection control training program aimed at frontline nursing home workers and managers with an eye toward halting COVID-19 spread and transmission.

This is a developing story. Please check back for further developments.