New York providers are calling on state officials to ease nursing home testing and visitation requirements in order to bring them closer in line with federal standards. 

The New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living requested in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D., that the state re-evaluate its current rules to align them with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services updated regulations. 

The federal agency in mid-September updated guidance on nursing home visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a framework for providers to facilitate in-home visitation. CMS Administrator Seema Verma added that providers who fail to facilitate in-person visits without reasonable cause could be cited for face other penalties under the updated rules. 

New York reduced the period of time a nursing home is prohibited from allowing visitors following a positive test from 28 days to 14 days, the group explained. New York also requires that all visitors be tested (regardless of whether they are asymptomatic) within seven days of any visitation.

Stephen B. Hanse

“Requiring such weekly testing of asymptomatic visitors places an extremely difficult burden on many of them, as they are unable to afford the significant cost ($100/test) of weekly testing which most insurers are refusing to cover as being ‘medically unnecessary,’” Stephen Hanse, president & CEO of NYSHFA wrote in the letter. 

Instead, it’s asking the state to require nursing home visitors to present a negative coronavirus test only in counties with a “medium” (5% to 10%) or “high” (greater than 10%) positive rate. 

The association added that the state’s “one-size fits all restriction on visitation is negatively impacting the health and well being of residents and their families and loved ones.”

Additionally, the provider group also requested that the state require nursing home staff in counties with “low” (less than 5% positivity rate) to be tested monthly, and staff testing to be conducted more frequently in counties with higher rates. 

New York currently requires weekly staff testing at nursing homes, regardless of the absence of symptoms. CMS in late August started requiring nursing homes to regularly test all staff for COVID-19, with community rates dictating the testing frequency. 

“Since these costs are also not covered by insurance, facilities are having to bear them without any source of reimbursement at a time when facilities’ financial resources are already stretched to the limit as a result of other COVID-19 mandates and the precipitous decline in census brought on by the pandemic,” Hanse added.