There may be more awaiting long-term care providers this week than meals of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services may release its final rule regarding cuts to Medicare Part B therapy services, according to Cynthia Morton, executive director of the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL).

“It could be any day now,” said Morton, who addressed stakeholders during a regulatory update to members on Friday, the last day of NASL’s annual conference.

The proposed rule, she noted, has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget, which marks “the last stop for a rule before it’s released to the public,” she said.  

NASL is bracing for some unappetizing news, as CMS proposed a 9% decrease for physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology services in its Proposed Physician Fee Schedule Rule for 2021, which was released in August.

NASL since then has launched an aggressive campaign against the proposed cuts, which would offset increases CMS has proposed making to other providers, such as endocrinologists, rheumatologists, family practice physicians and some nurse practitioners (but not those who bill claims for nursing home residents).

“They want to put more funding into the primary care areas,” she said, pointing out that a budget neutrality mandate, which forces funding offsets for funding increases, is in the statute for the fee schedule.

If CMS institutes the reductions, NASL then will turn to lawmakers for relief. Legislation for appropriations and health extenders, which are due Dec. 11, could be a vehicle for funding for the long-term care therapy specialties, Morton said.

HHS, CMS leaders to be named

In other news of major announcements, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services may come  earlier than usual — possibly in the first round of secretary announcements — noted Michaela Sims, principal of Sims Strategies and head of NASL Policy Counsel on Friday. The choice for administrator of CMS also may be announced earlier than in previous administrations. 

Because of Biden’s emphasis on fighting COVID-19, appointing the leaders of these major healthcare entities may take priority over the naming of other key positions, she said. Sims alluded to the “COVID cabinet” as a key organizing theme of the Biden transition.

The first round of cabinet appointments will come Tuesday, according to incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain on Sunday.