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April 17, 2015

FDA Gives Finalized Guidance on Medical Device Data Systems, Mobile Apps, and Medical Image Storage and Communications Devices

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued non-binding guidance on February 9, 2015 finalizing its position on regulatory compliance of medical device data systems (MDDS), medical image storage and communications devices and mobile medical applications. In its recently issued guidance, the FDA explained that it will not enforce compliance with the regulatory controls that apply to MDDS, medical image storage devices and medical image communications devices because the devices pose a low risk to the patients and play an important role in the advancement of digital health care. Under FDA regulations, MDDS is defined as hardware or software that electronically transfers or stores medical device data, electronically converts medical device data from one format to another, or electronically displays medical device data. A medical image storage device stores and retrieves medical images and a medical image communication device electronically transfers medical image data between medical devices.

As a result of the FDA's position, manufacturers of MDDS or medical storage and communication devices will not have to register with the FDA, submit to pre-market review or post-market reporting, and can avoid quality system regulation, thereby saving manufacturers time and money. The FDA further stated that it will not enforce compliance with pre-market notification for MDDS, or medical image storage and communication devices that would have otherwise required such notification under the regulations.

Additionally, on February 9, 2015 the FDA issued non-binding guidance specific to mobile apps. The issued guidance contains three appendices that explain and provide examples of apps that are within FDA enforcement, outside of FDA enforcement, and those over which the FDA abstains from enforcing the regulations. The first appendix gives examples of apps that are not "devices" under FDA regulations; the second appendix gives examples of apps that may meet the definition of "device," but but regulations will not be enforced as the apps are considered low risk to patients and users; and the third appendix gives examples of what the FDA considers "mobile medical apps" over which the FDA does intend to enforce its regulations. The FDA defined "mobile medical apps" as apps that meet the definition of a "device" and are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated device or are intended to transform a mobile platform into a device. In its guidance on mobile apps, the FDA stated many mobile devices do not fall under its definition of a "device" in 21 USC ยง 321(h) and are therefore not regulated by the FDA. The FDA did, however, strongly recommend that manufacturers of mobile apps that may qualify as a "device" follow the FDA's Quality System regulation in developing and designing apps. Lastly, while the FDA acknowledged that many current mobile apps do not constitute "devices" under FDA regulations, or are simply not regulated by the FDA, current and new mobile medical devices are subject to FDA enforcement.

In sum, the dually issued FDA guidance on MDDS, medical image storage and communication devices, and mobile apps in large part constitutes an abstention on behalf of the FDA, perhaps signalizing the FDA's recognition that strict enforcement of FDA regulations on MDDS, medical image storage and communication devices, and mobile apps will unduly burden manufacturers, slow the development of digital health care and fail to provide any greater protection to the public. However, mobile medical apps are subject to FDA regulation and enforcement and developers are encouraged to engage in open dialogue with the FDA to discuss potential regulatory requirements.

If you have any questions relating to MDDS, medical image storage and communication devices, or mobile application compliance with FDA regulations or any other compliance issues, please contact a Wachler & Associates attorney at 248-544-0888 or at wapc@wachler.com. For further updates on FDA regulatory requirements and other healthcare news, please subscribe to Wachler & Associates' health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

April 3, 2015

CMS Offers Clarification to HHA Contradictory Guidance

On March 18, 2015, Wachler & Associates attorneys, Andrew Wachler and Jessica Forster, highlighted contradictory guidance released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") relating to home health agencies ("HHAs") face-to-face encounter documentation. When the calendar year ("CY") 2015 Home Health Final Rule ("Final Rule") went into effect on January 1, 2015, new rules for HHAs face-to-face encounter documentation were implemented. Most prominently, the revised Final Rule eliminated the brief narrative requirement in almost all cases for home health face-to-face encounter documentation. Although the brief narrative requirement was removed, CMS mandated that the certifying physician's medical record include all required elements for the physician certification. Additionally, CMS stated in the Final Rule that a HHA may communicate with and provide information to the certifying physician about the patient's homebound status and need for skilled care and the certifying physician could incorporate the information into his or her medical record for the patient.

In two separate CMS conference calls, representatives provided contradictory information with regards to physician documentation responsibilities. The first conference call held by CMS properly reinforced the Final Rule's statement that HHAs could provide information to the certifying physician that the physician could incorporate into his or her medical record (a) if the physician signed/dated the documentation and (b) if the physician's own entries corroborated the information from the HHA. The Final Rule and the first conference call both said that this information from the HHA would be considered by medical reviewers to determine if the certification requirements were met. It was only during the second conference call, on March 11, that CMS contradicted prior guidance by stating that the physician's own documentation must meet the certification requirements and that medical reviewers were advised of this instruction. The CMS representative reiterated that even if a certifying physician signs and dates a HHA's documentation that does not mean that the documentation becomes part of the physician's medical record. Wachler & Associates reached out to CMS for clarification.

On March 23, 2015, CMS clarified the contradiction. In its reply, CMS stated that the patient's medical record must support the certification of eligibility and documentation in the patient's medical record shall be used as a basis for certification of home health eligibility. Importantly, CMS also noted that reviewers will consider HHA documentation if it is incorporated into the patient's medical record and signed off by the certifying physician.

Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor and provide timely updates on important HHA developments. Interested parties should listen to the next CMS Special Open Door Forum, which is scheduled for April 28, 2015 at 1:30pm ET. If you have any questions regarding the Final Rule, or HHAs in general, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

March 2, 2015

CMS to Audit All Home Health Agencies

In response to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General ("OIG") titled Limited Compliance with Medicare's Home Health Face-to-Face Documentation Requirements, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") has decided to audit all home health agencies ("HHAs") in the country. In its report, OIG detailed its findings stemming from a review of 644 home health face-to-face encounter documents that were analyzed to determine if they confirmed encounters and contained the required elements. OIG reported that 32 percent of home health claims that required face-to-face encounters did not meet Medicare requirements. OIG estimated that this resulted in $2 billion in inappropriate payments. After reviewing the study's results, OIG recommended that CMS:

  • Consider requiring a standardized form to ensure that physicians include all elements required for the face-to-face documentation;
  • Develop a specific strategy to communicate directly with physicians about the face-to-face requirement; and
  • Develop other oversight mechanisms for the face-to-face requirement.
At the end of the OIG report, CMS concurred with these three recommendations. In response, CMS reported that it is implementing an oversight plan of HHAs through the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor ("SMRC"), one of CMS's newest tools meant to ensure program integrity. CMS stated that "the SMRC will perform approximately five document-only reviews for every HHA in the country to validate that the most recent/valid face-to-face encounter is in the medical record." CMS reported that this will be a one-year, service-wide review of every HHA and CMS will provide further recommendations after reviewing the results.

Additionally, CMS has published proposed electronic and paper versions of its clinical documentation template to assist physicians in documenting their home health face-to-face encounters. Because it is the first time CMS has provided the healthcare industry templates for a progress note, it is soliciting comments on the templates. Those interested in the home health face-to-face proposed templates may participate in Special Open Door Forums occurring in March, April and May 2015. Should the templates be adopted, their use will be voluntary. CMS's proposal for the templates comes at a time when HHAs are revising their policies and protocols for face-to-face encounter documentation in light of the elimination of the physician brief narrative requirement in most cases effective January 1, 2015.

HHAs should be aware of the imminent nationwide SMRC audit. It is important that HHAs develop an effective compliance program that provides proactive measures to educate staff and certifying physicians on documentation requirements and prepare for an audit. If you have any questions regarding CMS's impending audit or need assistance in creating a compliance plan to meet the home health face-to-face encounter documentation requirements, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney via email at wapc@wachler.com or 248-544-0888.

February 23, 2015

President's 2016 Budget Proposes Changes to Recovery Audit Procedures

On February 2, 2015, the White House released President Obama's budget report for fiscal year 2016. A significant portion of the report is dedicated to healthcare issues. The report proposes several reforms to the Medicare program and purports a projected savings of $407.2 billion in the next 10 years. Additionally, the report includes a $403 million multi-year investment towards preventing, detecting, and prosecuting healthcare fraud and abuse. Moreover, the 2016 budget provides for a $201 million investment to continue to fund the full Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control discretionary cap adjustment, increase funding to recovery auditors to take on more corrective actions, and provide more funds to the Medicaid Integrity Program. The President's budget states an intention to increase such funding to $4.6 billion over the next 10 years.

The budget brief published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ("HHS"), proposes numerous measures in an attempt to curb the Medicare appeals backlog. Suggestions made by the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals ("OMHA") are summarized as follows:

  • Invest new resources at all levels of appeal to increase adjudication capacity and implement new strategies to alleviate the current backlog;
  • Take administrative actions to reduce the number of pending appeals and prevent new cases from entering the system; and
  • Propose legislative reforms that provide additional funding and new authorities to increase efficiency and address the volume of incoming appeals.
The investment increases suggested by OMHA are part of its requested budget of $140 million, a $53 million increase from fiscal year 2015. Aside from bolstered investment, OMHA also proposed several reforms that would impact the Medicare audit process. One such proposal is the implementation of a per-claim filing fee charged to providers at each level of the Medicare appeals process. The proposal allows for a refunding of the fee, but only in such instances where appellants receive a fully favorable appeal decision. OMHA projects that these filing fees will amount to $5 million, which will in turn fund 119 ALJ teams. The increase in ALJ teams is intended to decrease the backlog by improving efficiency and responsiveness.

OMHA also proposed the authorization of sampling and extrapolation techniques throughout the appeals process. This proposal would allow providers to consolidate all of their appeals into a single administrative appeal at all levels of the appeals process. If enacted, the proposal would require parties who are appealing claims included within an extrapolated overpayment, or consolidated previously, to file one appeal request for any such claims in dispute.

While HHS claims that these measures should assist in alleviating the backlog, the bulk of the reforms miss their mark. Ideally, HHS should rework the entire RAC process. For example, many industry stakeholders believe the financial incentives for RACs to deny claims are misguided. Wachler & Associates regularly counsels entities on how best to proactively prepare for an audit and mitigate audit risks. If you or your healthcare entity have questions regarding the outlined proposals, or are currently undergoing an audit and need assistance defending claims, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.


February 20, 2015

CMS Considers Shortening the Meaningful Use Reporting Period

On January 29, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") announced that it will consider shortening the meaningful use reporting period for electronic health record ("EHR") systems. Specifically, CMS stated that it intends to reduce the 2015 reporting period from 12 months to 90 days. Under the meaningful use incentive program, providers have faced the risk of a Medicare penalty if they failed to satisfy the program's requirements. A shortened reporting period of 90 days may increase compliance with Stage 2 of the program and reduce the reporting burden on providers. Additionally, providers can schedule their reporting period for the second half of 2015, providing additional time for providers to implement the EHR systems at Stage 2.

In a statement following CMS's announcement, the President of the American Medical Association ("AMA"), Steven J. Stack, MD, expressed the organization's support of the proposed shortening of the reporting period. However, Stack criticized the incentive program, stating that "EHRs are intended to help physicians improve care for their patients, but unfortunately, today's EHR certification standards and the stringent requirements of the meaningful-use program do not support that goal and decrease efficiency."

In its announcement, CMS also stated its intent to align the meaningful use reporting periods to the calendar year in an effort to give hospitals more time to integrate the 2014 Edition software and better coordinate with CMS quality programs. Although the proposed changes to the reporting period will not delay CMS's rollout of the forthcoming Stage 3 proposed rule, expected in March, CMS plans to limit the scope of the Stage 3 proposed rule to the criteria and requirements for meaningful use in 2017 and subsequent years.

Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor CMS rule making and guidance related to EHR meaningful use criteria, as well as other breaking healthcare news. If you need help understanding the meaningful use requirements or assistance with negotiating EHR contracts, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or email at wapc@wachler.com.

February 17, 2015

CMS Modifies Manual Medical Review Process for Outpatient Therapy Claims Above Cap

The Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014 extended the process for exceptions to Medicare's outpatient therapy caps through March 2015. Exceptions to Medicare's outpatient therapy caps are allowed for medically necessary and reasonably therapy services. However, claims above $3,700 for physical therapy and speech language pathology services combined, and above $3,700 for occupational therapy services, are subject to manual medical review by recovery audit contractors (RACs). The caps are calculated per beneficiary, per year. While manual medical reviews of outpatient therapy claims above the cap were put on hold last year, existing RACs received approval on January 16, 2015 to resume sending additional documentation requests (ADRs) to Part B providers.

However, CMS recently introduced a new post-payment review system that requires RACs to review outpatient therapy claims using a new manual medical review process. RACs will now be required to review claims using a tiered approach to ADRs. The process allows for 100% review of provider claims above the $3,700 therapy caps ("eligible claims"), but prevents the RACs from requesting large and potentially unmanageable amounts of records at one time.

Beginning in January 2015, the new manual medical review process permits RACs to review 100% of a provider's eligible claims using a 5-step approach to ADRs. A RAC's first ADR may only review one claim, but additional ADRs may request records for an increasing percentage of claims. The second ADR may review up to 10% of eligible claims, the third ADR may review up to 25% of eligible claims, and the fourth ADR may review up to 50% of eligible claims. Finally, a RAC's fifth ADR to a particular provider may review 100% of the provider's total eligible claims. Please note that the new tiered approach retains the RAC's cycle of 45 days between ADRs.

The new manual review process meets the congressional mandate of a 100% review rate for outpatient therapy claims above the outpatient therapy cap. However, CMS believes the new manual review process will meet the congressional mandate in a more equitable manner. For now, the review process is limited to claims reviewed by existing RACs for claims made from March 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. CMS has not yet finalized the process for claims made in 2015. The manual medical review process is also limited to claims made by Part B outpatient therapy providers, including but not limited to therapists' private offices, offices of physicians, Part B skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), home health agencies (HHAs), and hospital outpatient departments.

Wachler & Associates represents all types of therapy providers in a variety of matters, including responding to ADRs and appealing Medicare overpayment demands. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions regarding Medicare's new manual medical review process for therapy claims above the outpatient therapy cap, or seek help in defending an overpayment demand by a RAC, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To stay up to date on healthcare regulatory developments, subscribe to our blog by adding your email address in the window on the top right of this page.

February 6, 2015

Pharmaceutical Company Pays $39 million to Settle Anti-Kickback and False Claims Allegations

On January 9, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Department of Justice, along with several state Medicaid programs, announced that Daiichi Sankyo Inc. ("Daiichi"), a U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese pharmaceutical company, agreed to pay $39 million to settle alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute and False Claims Act ("FCA").

In March 2010, a qui tam lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The allegation contained in the lawsuit related to speaker programs that Daiichi hosted between January 2004 and March 2011. The qui tam plaintiff, a former Daiichi sales representative, asserted that Daiichi inappropriately compensated physicians that participated in the speaker programs. The six primary allegations included:

  • The program honoraria recipient only spoke to member of his or her own staff in his or her own office;
  • Physicians took turns accepting speaker honoraria for duplicative discussions;
  • The audience include the honoraria's spouse;
  • The honoraria recipient did not speak at all because the event was previously canceled;
  • The program dinners exceeded Daiichi's internal cost limitation of $140 per person; and
  • Drugs that were promoted at the programs (Azor, Benicar, Tribenzor, and Welchol) were used for off-label purposes.
The Government contended that the meals, honoraria, and other remuneration paid to participating physicians amounted to illegal kickbacks that ultimately induced the physicians to prescribe the drugs for off-label use. Furthermore, this resulted in pharmacies unknowingly submitting false prescription drug claims because prescriptions for off-label uses are typically not eligible for reimbursement.

In addition to paying $39 million, Diiachi agreed to enter into a corporate integrity agreement that obligates it to implement dramatic internal reforms over the next five years. Specifically, the corporate integrity agreement mandates that Diiachi enact compliance programs to prevent similar improper practices from reoccurring. For the qui tam plaintiff's services, the former employee will receive $6.1 million of the Government's recovery.

Wachler & Associates regularly counsels providers regarding the FCA, Anti-Kickback Statute, and other federal and state fraud and abuse laws and assists in developing compliance programs to address these laws. If you or your healthcare entity have any questions regarding the FCA, Anti-Kickback Statute, and/or other federal and state fraud and abuse laws, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.


January 28, 2015

CMS Announces New RAC Contract for DME, Home Health and Hospice Claims

On December 30, 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that they had awarded the Region 5 Recovery Audit Contract (RAC) to Connolly, LLC. CMS contracts with RACs to identify and correct improper payments. Connolly, which has been the RAC for Region C, was awarded the Region 5 contract which covers claims for durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics and supplies (DMEPOS), home healthcare and hospice providers. With the awarding of the new RAC contract focused on DME, home health and hospice providers, these provider types can expect increased scrutiny of their Medicare claims.

CMS also outlined a number of "improvements" to the RAC program that will take effect with each new RAC contract awarded, beginning with the Region 5 contract awarded on December 30, 2014.

One of the "improvements" brought by the new RAC program is that the CMS has reduced the RAC look-back period to 6 months from the date of service for patient status reviews where hospitals submitted the claim within 3 months of the date of service. Previously, the look-back period for RACs was from 3 years and hospitals had to submit a claim within one year from the date of service in order to comply with the timely filing rules, leaving hospitals with the inability to rebill denials from patient status reviews. Another improvement is that the CMS has established new Additional Documentation Request (ADR) limits based on a provider's compliance with Medicare rules. Specifically, the ADR limits will align with providers' denial rates (i.e., providers with low denial rates will have lower ADR limits), and ADR limits will be adjusted as a providers' denial rates decrease.

With the new RAC contract awarded, DME, home health and hospice providers should be prepared for increased audit activity from the new RAC. If you are currently undergoing an audit and need assistance defending claims denials, or have any questions about how to proactively prepare for an audit or mitigate audit risk, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To continue to stay updated on healthcare news, please subscribe to the Wachler & Associates health law blog by adding your email address and clicking 'Subscribe' in the window on the top right of this page.

January 13, 2015

House Republicans Release Proposal to Eliminate Two-Midnight Rule

In November 2014, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives circulated a "discussion draft," which proposed significant reforms to the process by which Medicare reimburses hospitals for short stays. Perhaps most notably, the GOP proposal would eliminate the two-midnight rule. Since its enactment, the two-midnight rule has remained controversial among healthcare providers. Under the two-midnight rule, an admission is appropriate only when the patient remains in the hospital for two midnights. However, since its adoption, the rule has created confusion and elicited criticism from providers who claim that it undermines their clinical decision-making process. Acknowledging the issue, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) limited enforcement of the two-midnight rule and solicited stakeholders for suggestions on improving it.

The discussion draft also proposes the establishment of a new Medicare payment system for hospital stays. Under the proposal, the payment system would go into effect in fiscal year 2020 and unify the currently separate inpatient and outpatient payment systems. During the five years before the implementation, CMS would be tasked with developing a transitional, per-diem payment system for short-term hospital stays. Additionally, CMS would restrain Recovery Audit Contractors (RAC) until the new payment system is adopted. This reprieve is important when establishing a new payment system because of the RAC program's onerous presence in the healthcare industry. Just last year, the RAC program recouped over $3 billion in Medicare overpayments, and audit appeals have created such a backlog that many appellants are waiting over three years for a decision. The backlog of appeals violates the statutory requirement for Administrative Law Judges to decide Medicare appeals within 90 days of the request for hearing.

Also included in the GOP's discussion draft is a partial elimination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (ACA) moratorium on the expansion of physician-owned hospitals. Currently, the law prohibits new physician-owned hospitals, expansion of existing physician-owned hospitals, and an increase in the percentage of physician ownership in existing physician-owned hospitals. Any reduction of the physician-owned hospital limitation would be welcomed news in the physician community. Further, in an effort to curb costs, the proposal also includes provisions that would promulgate a nationwide bundled payment program. Upon analyzing these proposals, many stakeholders believe that the circulation of the discussion draft indicates the direction of the anticipated Medicare debate in Congress and expect several of these provisions to be at the forefront of discussions in the next congressional session.

Wachler & Associates has been involved in policy formation regarding the two-midnight rule and we believe that any change to the rule will have widespread impact on providers and the Recovery Audit program. Our firm will continue to monitor breaking national healthcare news and provide timely updates. If you have questions regarding the discussion draft, the two-midnight rule, the moratorium on physician-owned hospitals, or any other health law compliance matter, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To remain updated on healthcare news, subscribe to Wachler & Associates' health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

December 22, 2014

Final Rule Tightens Provider Enrollment Policies, Expands CMS Authority

On December 3, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ("CMS") released a final rule that broadens its authority to deny providers or suppliers from enrolling in Medicare and revoke providers already participating. The final rule, which is scheduled to go into effect on February 3, 2015, permits CMS to deny or revoke enrollment of providers with abusive billing patterns or practices, deny enrollment of providers affiliated with unpaid Medicare debt and deny or revoke enrollment of providers if a managing employee has been convicted of certain felonies.

CMS plans to identify improper billing by analyzing several factors such as:

  • The percentage of denied claims;
  • The reason for the denials; and
  • The length of any billing irregularities.

Providers and suppliers affiliated with entities with unpaid Medicare debt may prevent the enrollment denial or revocation if they agree to a structured repayment plan or pay the debt in full. The purpose of this provision is to prevent entities from incurring substantial Medicare debt, exiting the program and then re-enrolling as a new entity. Currently, CMS can only deny enrollment to those who have overpayments. The final rule explicitly expands this power to include Medicare debt, which includes overpayments as well as other financial obligations.

The final rule also authorizes CMS to deny or revoke enrollment to entities that continue to retain a managing employee that has been convicted of a certain felonies within the past ten years. CMS identified felonies that it deems detrimental to beneficiaries and the Medicare program, including assault, income tax evasion, and embezzlement.

The final rule also restricts reimbursement for ambulance suppliers by eliminating their ability to bill Medicare for the year prior to their enrollment. Additionally, the final rule brings ambulance providers into the same fold as practitioners by requiring that they submit all claims within sixty days of enrollment revocation. CMS estimates that these provisions will save Medicare $327 million annually.

Wachler & Associates regularly counsels providers regarding CMS rules and regulations. If you have any questions about CMS' final rule, or how the new billing parameters may impact your practice, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To continue to stay updated on healthcare news, please subscribe to the Wachler & Associates health law blog by adding your email address and clicking 'Subscribe' in the window on the top right of this page.

December 12, 2014

CMS Issues Proposed Rule Postponing ACO Penalties

On December 1, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule that would postpone penalties against accountable care organizations (ACOs) for three years. The proposed rule is one of the latest measures CMS has taken to encourage ACOs to stay in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. In 2012, as part of the rollout of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Medicare Shared Savings Program was initiated in an effort to curb spending, while improving quality of care. Since its enactment, industry stakeholders have pushed for leniency, primarily because the Medicare Shared Savings Program penalizes ACOs after the first three years unless the ACOs voluntarily take on financial risk earlier, in exchange for larger bonuses if they perform well. While policymakers supported the penalties as a means of incentivizing change in the healthcare market, providers, particularly less experienced providers, pushed back--arguing that a more moderate approach would ease the financial risk and foster more growth. Recently, the National Association of ACOs released the results of a survey, which reported that approximately 200 of the 300 ACOs in the program were somewhat or highly unlikely to continue if they were required to accept penalties.

With the issuance of the proposed rule, CMS conveyed that it wants less experienced ACOs to remain in the program. By postponing the penalties, CMS acknowledged that some ACOs might not be ready to accept the financial risks and fear these providers might exit the program in lieu of exposing their entity to liability.

However, ACOs must abide by specific criteria if they want to take advantage of the postponement. Under the proposed rule, ACOs must have reduced their spending in their first two years in the program and be prepared to assume the financial risk of penalties after six years. Additionally, CMS plans to encourage ACOs to exit the safer track and take on more risk by decreasing the safe track bonuses from fifty percent to forty percent. Furthermore, CMS proposed a third track, which would implement new methods to determine which patients are included in the ACO. Specifically, the ACOs would start the year with a list of patients, and manage those patients' costs and care. This new system should benefit ACOs because CMS will identify the patients at the start of the year, allowing for more focused improvement efforts. Lastly, the third track will also include potential bonuses and penalties.

Wachler & Associates frequently counsels healthcare providers regarding ACOs, compliance with ACO requirements, and other healthcare fraud and abuse laws. If you have any questions regarding ACOs or how CMS's proposed rule may impact your healthcare entity, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

December 5, 2014

Deadlines for Certification with the American Board of Radiology Approaching Quickly

The American Board of Radiology's ("ABR") Board Eligibility Policy, implemented on January 1, 2012, limited the period of time that may elapse between the completion of residency training and achievement of Board Certification. Because a number of radiologists had completed their residencies but not yet achieved Board Certification when the policy went into effect, the ABR established a transitional phase-in period with specific time limits on the Board Eligibility period.

Importantly, the dates chosen by the ABR as the deadlines for achieving certification for certain radiologists are quickly approaching. For diagnostic radiology and radiation oncology, the termination dates for board eligibility status are as follows:

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As a result, radiologists who completed their training in 2004 or before but continue in the examination process are facing possible termination of "board eligibility" as soon as the end of this year. After the period of board eligibility expires, radiologists who have not achieved Board Certification will no longer be considered by the ABR to be "board eligible," and will no longer be permitted to designate themselves as such for credentialing purposes.

Moreover, re-entry into the certification process will require substantial effort. To return to "board eligible" status, the candidate must complete an additional year of training in a department with an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME)-accredited or Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC)-accredited diagnostic radiology or radiation oncology residency program. Additionally, the ABR must approve the additional year of training before it begins and the training must begin after expiration of board eligibility. During this one-year period, the candidate's status will be "not certified, not board eligible." Following the one-year training, the program director must attest to the candidate's successful completion. Once the ABR receives confirmation, the candidate will reenter the certification process and must pass the Core and Certifying examinations. Candidates will have a six-year period to pass the examinations.

Wachler & Associates will continue to monitor and provide timely updates on important ABR developments. If you have any questions regarding your board eligibility status, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To remain updated on healthcare news, subscribe to Wachler & Associates' health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

November 5, 2014

CMS Finalizes Home Health Prospective Payment System Rule

On October 30, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its final rule regarding changes to the Medicare home health care prospective payment system. The changes, which are set to go into effect in calendar year 2015, will reduce payments to home health agencies (HHAs) by approximately .30 percent, or $60 million. This decrease comes as a result of the 2.1 percent home health payment update percentage. Additionally, the decrease implements the second year of the four-year phase in of the rebasing adjustments promulgated by Section 3131(a) of the Affordable Care Act.

CMS stated that the final rule is one of several to be released for calendar year 2015 aimed at reflecting a broader strategy to deliver better care at lower cost by increasing delivery efficiency. Provisions in the final rule should transition the healthcare system into one that values quality over quantity by focusing on reforms such as helping manage and improve chronic diseases, measuring for better health outcomes, focusing on disease prevention and fostering a more-efficient and coordinated system.

The Medicare program reimburses HHAs through a prospective payment system that pays higher rates for beneficiaries with greater needs. Currently, all HHAs must provide relevant data from patient assessments, which CMS uses to annually determine payment rates. In order to qualify for the Medicare home health benefit, a beneficiary must be cared for by a physician, require physical therapy or speech-language pathology, require intermittent skilled nursing care, or continue to need occupational therapy. Additionally, the beneficiary is required to be homebound and receive services from a Medicare-approved HHA. Outlined below are changes that the final rule makes to various aspects related to the home health prospective payment system.

Face-to-Face Encounter Regulatory Requirements Reform- Under the ACA, certifying physicians, or allowed non-physician providers, are required to have a face-to-face encounter with a beneficiary before the physician certifies the beneficiary's home health benefit eligibility. Under current requirements, the encounter must occur within 90 days before care begins, or within 30 days after care begins. In addition, part of the documentation must include a "brief narrative" that explains why the clinical findings during the encounter support that the patient is homebound and needs skilled services.

In the final rule, CMS finalized three changes to the face-to-face encounter documentation requirements that are effective for start of care episodes beginning on or after January 1, 2015. First, CMS eliminated the current narrative requirement for most services. The certifying physician must still certify that the face-to-face encounter occurred, that the encounter was related to the primary reason for home health services and document the date of such encounter. CMS will require the certifying physician to provide documentation in their medical records, or when applicable the acute/post-acute care facility's medical records, to be used as the basis for certification of the beneficiary's eligibility for home health services. CMS confirmed that the medical records should include the visit note from the face-to-face encounter. Second, CMS finalized that if a HHA claim is denied, the related physician claim for certifying or re-certifying the beneficiary's eligibility is considered non-covered as well because there is no longer a respective claim for Medicare-covered home health services. Lastly, CMS clarified that face-to-face encounters are required for certifications, rather than initial episodes. CMS also noted that certification, as opposed to re-certification, is typically considered to be whenever a new assessment is completed to initiate care.

Therapy Reassessments Modifications- The final rule eliminated the 13th and 19th visit reassessment requirements for therapists. Instead, for episodes beginning on or after January 1, 2015, a qualified therapist, not an assistant, is required to provide the needed services and reassess the patient at least once every 30 days. CMS hopes this change will reduce the burden on HHAs who formerly had to count visits. Additionally, the new policy should reduce the risk of non-covered stays, allowing therapists to focus on providing higher quality of care.

Conditions of Participation Changes for Speech-language Pathologists- In the final rule, CMS changed the Home Health Conditions of Participation for speech language pathologists (SLPs) in an effort to provide more flexibility by deferring to State licensure requirements. Following the implementation, an SLP is an individual that meets one of the following requirements:

  • Has a master's or doctoral degree in speech-language pathology, and is licensed as a speech-language pathologist by the state where they furnish services; or
  • Has a master's or doctoral degree in speech-language pathology, and successfully completed 350 hours of supervised clinical practicum (or is on the process of accumulating such supervised clinical experience), has at least nine months of supervised full-time speech-language pathology experience after obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in speech-language pathology or related field, and has successfully completed a national examination approved by the Secretary.
Wachler & Associates regularly counsels healthcare providers regarding rules and regulations involving Medicare compliance and reimbursement, including application to home health agencies. If you have questions about how CMS's final rule may impact your agency, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com. To stay updated on breaking healthcare news, please subscribe to the Wachler & Associates health law blog by adding your email address and clicking "Subscribe" in the window on the top right of this page.

October 28, 2014

CMS Extends Fraud and Abuse Waivers for ACO Shared Savings Program

On October 17, 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) extended its interim final rule regarding fraud and abuse waivers for accountable care organizations (ACOs) that participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. The Medicare Shared Savings Program was one of the initial steps taken under the Affordable Care Act to both increase quality and lower costs in the Medicare program. ACOs that participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program can share in the savings generated to Medicare.

Originally, the interim final rule was published in the November 2, 2011 Federal Register, and had the typical three-year period before becoming a final rule. The continuation of the interim final rule extends the timeline for an additional year, establishing a new deadline of November 2, 2015. The interim final rule offers five waivers to ACOs, which allow healthcare entities to form and operate ACOs without fear of violating federal fraud and abuse laws. The ACO waivers include:

  • An ACO participation waiver;
  • An ACO pre-participation waiver;
  • A compliance with the Physician Self-Referral (Stark) law waiver for the Gainsharing Civil Monetary Penalties (CMP) and Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS);
  • A shared savings distribution waiver; and
  • A patient incentive waiver.

    CMS offered these exemptions to the Stark law, AKS, and Gainsharing CMP to encourage ACOs to participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program. Noting the success of the waivers, CMS extended the deadline in an attempt to prevent disruptions in the ongoing operations of ACOs. Additionally, CMS was concerned that the expiration of the interim final rule would result in considerable legal uncertainty for ACOs and, in turn, place the success of the Medicare Shared Savings Program at risk. In its announcement, CMS adamantly affirmed its commitment to establishing ACO waivers.

    CMS's deadline extension also allows time for further comments from providers, policymakers, and others with a stake in the interim final rule. Specifically, CMS requested input regarding:

  • Whether the existing waivers serve the needs of ACOs and Medicare;
  • How and to what extent ACOs are using the waivers;
  • Whether the waivers adequately protect the Medicare program and beneficiaries from the types of harms associated with referral payments or payments to reduce or limit services; and
  • Whether there are new or changed considerations that should inform the development of additional notice and comment rulemaking.

    Wachler & Associates regularly counsels healthcare providers regarding compliance with ACO requirements, the Stark Law, AKS, and other fraud and abuse laws. If you have any questions regarding ACOs or how CMS's interim final rule and ACO waivers may impact your health care entity, or seek assistance in commenting on any of the provisions, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.

  • October 6, 2014

    Office for Civil Rights Advisor Warns Providers on HIPAA Audits: "Get Your House In Order"

    On September 9, Linda Sanches, the Senior Advisor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) warned that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) audits are forthcoming. Speaking at the HIMSS Privacy and Security Forum in Boston, Sanches cautioned attendees that the best defense to an audit is conducting periodic and comprehensive risk analyses focused on administrative and technical protections, as well as human error vulnerabilities. "The onus is on you to prove that you had the proper systems in place," Sanches warned, advising providers to proactively perform risk analyses in advance of a HIPAA audit.

    To attendees' disappointment, Sanches did not unveil a start date for the HIPAA audits. Instead, Sanches explained that the OCR has postponed initiating HIPAA auditing to implement new technology with increased auditing capacities. Originally, the OCR intended to conduct a total of 400 desk audits. However, Sanches confirmed that now the OCR will likely perform fewer than 200 targeted desk audits and an unconfirmed number of on-site audits. A variety of providers across practice area, size, and geographic location should expect to be audited. Audited entities will be responsible for compliance with both the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule. In addition, providers should have available an updated list of business associates with contact information and services provided. Sanches warned that the OCR will use a provider's business associate list to select business associates for HIPAA auditing.

    Providers with patterns in reported breaches are more likely to face HIPAA auditing. Sanches emphasized that providers who fail to demonstrate compliance with the HIPAA privacy rule and HIPAA security rule may face hefty settlement fines based on the amount of harm and provisions violated. When discussing fines, Sanches stated, "It's basic math. How many people were affected?"

    Since the inception of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules, Wachler & Associates has counseled providers and other covered entities in HIPAA compliance. In order to attain compliance, providers should update security policies and procedures, business associate agreements, privacy policies and procedures, and HIPAA privacy notices. Additionally, all employees should receive regular training in HIPAA compliance. If your entity does not already have these procedures in place Wachler & Associates can help you implement these important compliance measures. If you have any questions regarding HIPAA, HIPAA audits or require assistance developing a HIPAA compliance plan, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or via email at wapc@wachler.com.