Question of the Week

Can the medical staff of a critical access hospital be part of a unified medical staff within a multi-hospital system?

As of the date of this e-mail (September 8, 2022), the answer is no, but a change could be in the works soon.  In 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) revised the Medicare Conditions of Participation to allow a “unified and integrated” medical staff in hospitals that are part of a health system.  Previously, CMS had required that each hospital have its own separate medical staff.  In the past, even if medical staffs in a system had overlapping membership, CMS required that the medical staffs be “separate.”  However, the CMS Interpretive Guidelines provide as follows:

[A] hospital system that includes certain types of hospitals, i.e., Hospitals-within-Hospitals or Hospital Satellites, that are being paid under a Medicare payment system other than the Hospital Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) might jeopardize the Medicare payment status of those excluded hospitals if it owns both the tenant and host hospitals and uses a unified medical staff for both.  (Emphasis added.)

42 CFR §482.22(b)(4).  This effectively prevented CAHs from being part of a unified medical staff within a system.  CMS reiterated this rule in 2017 when it approved an application from The Joint Commission to have deemed status for surveys of CAHs. 82 Fed. Reg. 49,817, 49,818 (Oct. 27, 2017).

However, on July 6, 2022, CMS proposed that this prohibition be lifted and that medical staffs of CAHs be permitted to be part of a unified medical staff within a multi-hospital system subject to essentially the same rules (e.g., opt-in and opt-out rights, consideration of local circumstances, etc.) that apply to unified medical staffs within PPS hospitals. 87 Fed. Reg. 40350, 40376.  Comments closed on August 29, 2022, so the proposal may be final at any time now.  Stay tuned for further developments in the Health Law Express.