Articles Posted in Compliance

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On January 14, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule codifying a definition for “reasonable and necessary” coverage under Medicare Part A and Part B. CMS hopes codifying the meaning of “reasonable and necessary” will provide clarity and consistency to the current process of coverage determination for items and services under Part A and Part B. The final rule takes effect on March 15, 2021.

The definition of “reasonable and necessary” has three components: an item or service is required to be 1) safe and effective, 2) not experimental or investigational, and 3) appropriate for Medicare patients. Whether an item or service is appropriate for Medicare patients will be based on the duration and frequency deemed appropriate for the item or service and whether the item or service:

  • Is provided in accordance with accepted standards of medical practice
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On January 15, 2021, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized the agency’s “CMS Interoperability and Prior Authorization” rule to improve the prior authorization process and give patients more control in accessing and understanding their health data. Under the rule, certain payers, such as Medicaid and CHIP managed care plans, state Medicaid and CHIP fee-for-service programs (FFS) and those that issue individual market Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) on the federally-facilitated exchanges (FFEs)) must create and utilize technology known as application programing interfaces (APIs). APIs are commonly used in smartphone applications, and when incorporated into electronic health records (EHR), can enable simple and immediate access to health data for providers.

Each payer obligated under this rule must build a documentation search program driven by an API, and make the program public, allowing providers to access health documentation and prior authorization requirements from various EHR platforms. Once a provider determines what each prior authorization requires, the authorization can then be submitted electronically. Moreover, the payers are required to implement, under the already established Patient Access API, laboratory results and other claims and encounter data, as well as information regarding a patient’s pending and active prior authorizations.

Payers must also communicate this data with a patient’s provider if asked, and with other payers, should a patient’s coverage or provider change. This will allow patients, providers, and payers to have all the necessary data when needed, automating the process and reducing the administrative burden on providers. As a result, providers will be less likely to work with incomplete health information and the likelihood of repeat prior authorization requests will decrease, resulting in more time the provider has to spend with the patient. Notably, Medicare Advantage plans are not included in this new rule and not subject to its requirements; however, CMS is continuing to consider whether Medicare Advantage plans should be included.

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On January 12, 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued sweeping new directives regarding the procedures the Department will follow when relying on guidance documents, initiating enforcement actions, making jurisdictional determinations, and allowing prior notice and opportunity to be heard on agency determinations. These directives apply to civil and administrative enforcement proceedings and adjudications and take effect immediately.

First, HHS directed that the Department may not use guidance documents to impose binding requirements or prohibitions on persons outside of the executive branch except as authorized by law or expressly incorporated into a contract. That is, noncompliance with a standard or practice found only in a guidance document will not constitute a violation of the applicable statute or regulation. Further, the Department may refer to a guidance document in a civil enforcement action only if it has notified the public of the guidance in advance.

Second, HHS directed that the Department will only apply standards and practices, including in initiating a civil enforcement action or making an agency decision, that have been publicly stated in a way that would not cause unfair surprise. Of note, HHS defined “unfair surprise” to include when the Department initiates litigation following a lengthy period of conspicuous inaction.

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On December 18, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new guidance on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The guidance addresses important questions related to the definition of a health information exchange (HIE), when covered entities can disclose protected health information (PHI) to an HIE without the individual’s authorization, whether covered entities need a direct request from the public health authority (PHA) to disclose PHI, and whether a covered entity must provide notice to individuals regarding disclosures of PHI for public health purposes. In addition, the guidance provides examples for providers and entities relevant to HIPAA and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Questions addressed in the guidance include:

What is a health information exchange (HIE)?

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On December 16, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced that it would begin Phase 3 of general distributions under the Provider Relief Fund (“PRF”) and that Phase 3 would be larger than initially planned. The PRF is a $175 billion fund created Congress through the CARES Act and administered by HHS to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The PRF is administered by HHS through the Health Resource Services Administration (“HRSA”). HHS has subdivided the PRF into various general and targeted distributions.

Earlier in 2020, HHS had made two general distributions under the PRF. The Phase 1 general distribution consisted of $50 billion in financial payments, released in two successive tranches of $30 billion and $20 billion, to healthcare providers based to providers who billed Medicare. The Phase 2 general distribution consisted of an additional $18 billion in financial payments to providers that billed Medicaid, dentists, assisted living facilities, and providers that were not eligible under the terms of Phase 1 due to a change in ownership.

On October 1, 2020, HHS announced the Phase 3 general distribution. The Phase 3 general distribution was initially planned to consist of $20 billion on financial payments to providers who were either excluded from the initial two phases, or who were eligible under the first two phases but required additional funding to cover ongoing financial losses accrued during the pandemic. The following providers are eligible for Phase 3 General Distribution funding: (1) Providers who have previously received, rejected, or accepted a General Distribution PRF payment; (2) behavioral health providers, including those that have previously received funding; and (3) healthcare providers that began practicing January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2020. All providers who receive payments must attest to receiving the payment and accept the associated Terms and Conditions.

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Despite a determination by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) that laboratory developed tests (“LDTs”) do not require premarket approval, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has asserted that the at-home collection kit portion of a COVID-19 LDT does require FDA pre-market approval.

Testing by clinical laboratories is regulated by the FDA and by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (“CLIA”), as administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”). The FDA regulates medical devices, including in vitro diagnostic products (“IVDs”). The FDA considers LDTs to be IVDs that are intended for clinical use and are designed, manufactured, and used within a single laboratory. CLIA, on the other hand, regulates the laboratory itself and classifies LDTs as “high complexity tests,” with corresponding standards imposed on the laboratory. Importantly, regarding the LDT itself, CLIA requires only analytical validation, which can occur after testing has already begun. LDTs may also be subject to more stringent state and private sector oversight.

Historically, the FDA had exercised enforcement discretion and not regulated LTDs, but this began to change in recent decades. However, in August 2020, HHS directed that, absent rule and commenting and at least during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the FDA would not require premarket review and approval of LDTs. This allowed clinical laboratories to develop and begin using LDTs to test for COVID-19 without delaying for an FDA Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”) or other approval. Some of these LDTs included at-home collection kits wherein the patient collected the sample at home, sometimes under the telemedicine supervision of a health care professional, and shipped it to the laboratory for testing.

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On November 16, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a special fraud alert targeting remuneration associated with speaking arrangements paid for by pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The alert addressed both honoraria paid to the speaking physician and benefits provided to attendees, such as meals or alcohol.

OIG has taken the position that the fees paid to speakers and the benefits provided to attendees may constitute unlawful “remuneration” under the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) meant to induce or reward referrals. Pursuant to the AKS, it is unlawful to knowingly and willfully solicit, receive, offer, or pay any remuneration to induce or reward, among other things, referrals for, or orders of, items or services reimbursable by a Federal health care program. According to OIG, pharmaceutical and medical device companies paid nearly $2 billion to physicians and health care professionals for speaker-related services in 2017, 2018, and 2019 combined.

OIG clarified that not every physician speaking arrangement violates the AKS and that it does not intend to discourage meaningful training or education. However, OIG outlined several factors that, in OIG’s view, increase the risk that an arrangement could violate the AKS. These factors include:

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A Medicare license revocation can drastically affect a provider or practice; for example, more than 90% of primary care providers accept Medicare, and Medicare beneficiaries account for at least 50% of primary care physicians’ patient population. A revocation can jeopardize providers’ livelihood and lead to other consequences, including loss of hospital staff privileges, bars on reenrollment, and harm to a provider’s reputation within the medical community. Despite these penalties, as Medicare revocation rules evolved, CMS broadened the language permitting the agency to revoke a license, without much guidance or specificity, leaving providers with little information on the exact behavior they must avoid to prevent a revocation.

Since 2008, CMS has significantly expanded the instances in which a provider’s Medicare license can be revoked. In 2008, CMS added a new reason for revocation, 42 C.F.R. § 424.535(a)(10), which allows CMS to revoke a provider’s Medicare license if the provider does not document or does not provide CMS access to certain documentation. In 2014, CMS added a new section to 424.535(a)(8), section (a)(8)(ii).

Under an (a)(8) revocation, CMS can revoke a provider’s enrollment in Medicare if the provider commits certain abuses related to billing. Prior to 2014, under the original rule, an (a)(8) revocation was limited to specific circumstances in which the provider submitted claims for services that could not have been provided to the individual on a the date of those services. These circumstances could include, the beneficiary is deceased, the physician or beneficiary is not in the location where the service were provided, or when the necessary equipment for the service were not in the location where the services occurred.

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On October 22, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced changes to the allowable uses of a Provider Relief Fund (“PRF”) payment and also expanded the categories of providers eligible to receive a payment in the Phase 3 General Distribution. The PRF is a $175 billion fund created by Congress in the CARES Act and administered by HHS to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acceptance of a PRF payment is conditioned on the acceptance by the provider of certain restrictions on how the payment may be used and the filing of reports in which the provider demonstrates compliance with these restrictions. One such restriction is that the funds may be used for “lost revenue attributable to the coronavirus.” When HHS first released the reporting requirements for PRF payments, it indicates that such lost revenues would be demonstrated by a negative change in year-over-year net patient care revenue from 2019 to 2020. Many saw this as placing an arbitrary cap on the amount of financial relief that struggling providers could receive from the PRF. In response to feedback, HHS has amended this requirement. Regarding use of the PRF payment to cover lost revenue attributable to coronavirus, HHS now requires that, “after reimbursing healthcare related expenses attributable to coronavirus that were unreimbursed by other sources, providers may use remaining PRF funds to cover any lost revenue, measured as a negative change in year-over-year actual revenue from patient care related sources.” (emphasis added).

HHS also announced expansion of the categories of providers who are eligible to apply for payments as part of the Phase 3 General Distribution of the PRF. The PRF previously included $30 billion Phase 1 and $20 billion Phase 2 General Distributions to eligible providers, primarily those that bill Medicare or Medicaid. The $20 billion Phase 3 General Distribution, announced October 1, 2020, was intended to provide financial relief to for providers who were either excluded from the initial two phases, or who were eligible under the first two phases but require additional funding to cover ongoing financial losses accrued during the pandemic. On October 22, 2020, HHS announced it was expanding Phase 3 eligibility to include the following providers, regardless of whether they accept Medicare or Medicaid:

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Beginning January 21, 2021, only COVID-19 diagnostic tests that are completed within two days will be paid at the current rate by Medicare. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, diagnostic testing has been an important part of strategies to combat the virus. In an early push to expand COVID-19 diagnostic testing capacity, on April 15, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) announced that Medicare would increase the payment to laboratories for high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic tests from approximately $51 to $100 per test.

However, on October 15, 2020, CMS announced a change to this policy. Beginning January 1, 2021, COVID-19 diagnostic tests run on high-throughput technology will be paid at a base rate of $75 per test. A $25 per test add-on payment will then be paid to laboratories for a high throughput COVID-19 diagnostic test if the laboratory: (1) completes the test in two calendar days or less, and (2) completed the majority of all the previous months’ high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic tests in two calendar days or less. The second requirement includes all of a laboratory’s high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic tests in the precious month, not just those that are billed to Medicare. Thus, only tests that meet both these requirements will continue to be paid at $100 per test, while others will be paid at $75 per test. CMS indicates that this change is intended to support faster testing and also reflect the resource costs laboratories face to complete testing in a timely fashion.

In the event of an audit, CMS indicates that a laboratory that received the $25 per test add-on would be required to produce documentation of timeliness based on their performance in the month preceding the date of the test. These increased documentation requirements could effectively begin as early as December 2020. Because the new payment rates become effective January 1, 2021 but take into account tests completed in the previous month, laboratories will likely have to complete the majority of their tests run in December 2020 in two days or less to qualify for the add-on payment in January 2021.

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