Articles Posted in Health Law

Published on:

On April 26, 2024, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published a Final Rule introducing compliance changes for reproductive healthcare information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule. Titled “HIPAA Privacy Rule to Support Reproductive Health Care Privacy,” the Final Rule prohibits disclosure of protected health information (PHI) related to lawful reproductive healthcare under certain circumstances. HIPAA-covered entities will also be required to update their Notices of Privacy Practices (NPPs), obtain attestations in connection with certain requests for reproductive healthcare information, and update their HIPAA policies and training.

The Final Rule prohibits uses or disclosure of PHI to investigate or impose liability on individuals, healthcare providers, or others who seek, obtain, provide, or facilitate reproductive healthcare that is lawful under the circumstances under which it is provided, or to identify persons for such activities. Notably, the Final Rule includes a presumption, with certain exceptions, that the reproductive healthcare provided by a person other than the covered entity receiving the request was lawful. Covered entities are required to obtain a signed attestation from certain requestors that they do not seek PHI for these prohibited purposes. This requirement applies when PHI is requested for health oversight activities, judicial and administrative proceedings, law enforcement purposes, and disclosure to coroners and medical examiners. The HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has stated that it intends to publish model attestation language. Additionally, covered entities are required to modify their NPPs to support reproductive healthcare privacy.

The Final Rule continues to allow covered healthcare providers to use or disclose PHI for purposes otherwise permitted under the Privacy Rule where the request for the use or disclosure of PHI is not made to investigate or impose liability on any person for the mere act of seeking, obtaining, providing, or facilitating reproductive healthcare. The Final Rule will become effective on June 25, 2024, with a compliance date of December 23, 2024, except for certain requirements pertaining to Notices of Privacy Practices. Covered entities must comply with the NPP provisions of the Final Rule by February 16, 2026.

Published on:

Earlier this month, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) awarded Comprehensive Health Care Program contracts for Michigan’s Medicaid health plans. Health plans administered under Michigan Medicaid provide access to healthcare services to nearly 2 million Michigan residents. In this recent award of health plan contracts, nine health plans submitted proposals. The awarded Medicaid contracts are expected to go into effect in October 2024 and carry terms of five years, with three, one-year optional extensions.

The Medicaid health plan contracts were awarded based on Michigan’s 10 Prosperity Regions as follows:

  • Region 1 – Upper Peninsula Prosperity Alliance: Upper Peninsula Health Plan, LLC.
Published on:

On March 12, 2024, several senators wrote a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller General, requesting an investigation into the policies and procedures CMS has in place to prevent Medicare fraud, waste, and abuse. The senators noted that in 2022, GAO estimated there were $47 billion in improper Medicare payments with $1.7 billion being reclaimed, representing a 2.8% recovery rate.

The senators’ letter was likely prompted by a recent investigation from the National Association of Accountable Care Organizations (NAACOS), which uncovered an alleged fraudulent urinary catheter scheme. NAACOS discovered that ten medical device companies went from billing 15 patients for catheters to over 500,000 patients for catheters within a period of two years. This alleged scheme has been estimated to cost CMS over $2 billion and has garnered significant media attention. Of particular concern to the senators is the fact that NAACOS publicly commented on this issue prior to any announcements from CMS.

The senators noted that this alleged scheme highlights “critical vulnerabilities” within CMS’ fraud, waste, and abuse policies. To this point, they requested that the fraud prevention measures of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a team with representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), should be investigated by GAO in order to identify weaknesses and areas for improvement.

Published on:

As we noted previously, Medicare providers of wound care services continue to be the target of audits by Medicare contractors. Wound care services typically involve the application of allografts, skin substitutes, and related products to promote healing and support recovery. Due to the generally high reimbursement rates and need for frequent reapplication of these types of products, the Medicare program views such products as a high risk for improper payments or alleged fraud. Providers who utilize these products for wound care services or who are subjected to audit should understand the contours of an audit and be aware of their rights in responding to an audit.

The Medicare Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), such as the CoventBridge Group or Qlarant, typically perform these audits. UPICs are charged with the primary goal of investigating instances of suspected fraud, waste, and abuse in Medicare or Medicaid claims. Historically, UPICs are quick to allege that a provider has committed fraud and deny claims for any supposed non-compliance with coverage or documentation requirements, regardless of how minor the perceived deficiency. Providers should be cognizant that a UPIC’s allegation of fraud or non-compliance may bring about significant adverse consequences, especially when such allegations are not disputed. These allegations may be addressed by a timely and well-developed appeal of claims denied by the UPIC.

Wound care services involving skin substitutes and similar products subject to audit are generally denied for reasons such as the following:

Published on:

In response to the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) as an effort to financially support the nation’s healthcare providers as they grappled with COVID-19. To achieve this goal, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) was tasked with administering the PRF program, and distributed hundreds of thousands of payments from the program’s $178 billion fund to healthcare providers of all types. However, even though providers may have used the PRF funds for permitted COVID-related purposes, many providers are increasingly being demanded to return the money, and being given little to no notice or information as to why.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first batch of disbursements under the PRF program were unsolicited and were deposited directly into providers’ bank accounts without prior application or notice. Providers had to quickly decide whether to return the funds, or to keep the money and agree to abide by the terms and conditions of the PRF program, despite not knowing at the time precisely what those terms were. Many providers that are being subjected to the current rash of repayment demands received PRF funds during the earliest distribution phases.

The repayment demands themselves and the processes available to dispute such demands present an entirely new set of complications and may often give the impression that a provider is being unfairly targeted for performing valuable healthcare services during a public health emergency. As the administrator of the PRF program, HRSA is supposed to initially notify providers of any alleged non-compliance with the PRF program terms and conditions. Usually, this is due to HRSA’s claim that a provider has not submitted the required reporting before the appropriate deadline or within the late reporting timeframe. Notably, providers are increasingly commenting that they are not receiving any notices regarding compliance with the PRF program or reporting requirements, or further, that they are later discovering such notices were sent to the wrong address.

Published on:

Late last year, the Michigan State Medical Society (MSMS) published a letter to the Michigan Attorney General (AG) voicing concerns about the influence of private equity on the practice of medicine and what MSMS referred to as widespread violations on Michigan’s prohibition on the corporate practice of medicine (CPOM). MSMS asked the AG to promptly investigate its concerns.

CPOM refers to the practice of medicine by a corporate entity, rather than an individual practitioner. That is, a corporate entity employs physicians and maintains the control that comes with employment. Many states prohibit the corporate practice of medicine or otherwise regulate what types of entities may employ physicians. The rationale is often a desire that medical decision-making remain with the physician and should not be influenced by a non-physician employer or by profit-driven investors. These regulations are the reasons that physician “employment” is often organized into physician groups or profession corporations.

In Michigan, with a few specific exceptions, entities that provide medical services generally must be organized as professional corporations (PCs) or professional limited liability companies (PLLCs) and must be owned by licensed professionals. A common business model is for a PC or PLLC to contract with an outside management services organization (MSO), which is not physician-owned, but may have financial resources or management expertise that the licensed owners of the PC do not have.

Published on:

Healthcare providers are starting to see the first claims audits based on analysis and determinations made by artificial intelligence (AI). Although the technology is new, many of the issues remain the same. Especially where the companies that develop AI-based audit tools sell these tools and services to commercial insurance companies, AI-driven audits increasingly resemble audits of Medicare providers and suppliers performed by the Recovery Audit Contractors, or RACs.

RACs are Medicare contractors charged by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to identify overpayments and underpayments made to providers and to facilitate return of overpayments to the Medicare Trust Fund. Primarily, RACs accomplish this by conducting audits and issuing repayment demands. RACs are different from other types of Medicare contractors that conduct audits because RACs are paid on a contingency fee. That is, RACs received a percentage of any funds they extract from providers, making them significantly incentivized to deny claims and demand repayment even where there is no clinical or legal basis to do so.

Similarly, because few insurance carriers have developed sophisticated AI tools in house, they often contract outside technology companies to provide the AI audit tools, and often to conduct the audits themselves. These outside contractors are motivated to deny claims and identify alleged overpayments in order to retain the business of the insurance carrier. This motivation is further enhanced where the outside contractor is paid a percentage of the alleged overpayments that their AI tool identifies. Therefore, any provider should carefully scrutinize any such audit findings, much as they would scrutinize the findings of a similarly motivated RAC.

Published on:

In the Medicare Advantage (MA) program, overseen by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Medicare Advantage Organizations (MAOs) – typically private insurers – receive monthly payments from CMS. The MAOs then contract with healthcare providers and suppliers to provide services pursuant to multiple MA plans offered by the MAOs. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), many providers have expressed concern that MAOs are using AI tools to review claims, make coverage determinations, deny claims, and conduct audits with little to no human oversight.

CMS recently released its 2024 MA Final Rule and a set of accompanying frequently asked questions (FAQs). In these, CMS cautioned MAOs that, while an algorithm or software tool can be used to assist MA plans in making coverage determinations, it remains the responsibility of the MAO to ensure that the algorithm or AI complies with all applicable rules for how coverage determinations by MA organizations are made. CMS emphasized that this included that MAOs make medical necessity determinations based on the circumstances of each specific individual including the patient’s medical history, physician recommendations, and clinical notes; and in line with all fully established Traditional Medicare coverage criteria (including established criteria in applicable Medicare statutes, regulations, National Coverage Determinations (NCDs), or Local Coverage Determinations (LCDs)), or with publicly accessible internal coverage criteria that are based on current evidence in widely used treatment guidelines or clinical literature.

CMS gave several examples of non-compliant use of AI by MAOs, mostly due to a lack of human, clinical oversight of the AI-driven tool and the implementation of its outputs. In an example involving a decision to terminate post-acute care services, CMS noted that an algorithm or software tool can be used to assist providers or MA plans in predicting a potential length of stay, but that prediction alone cannot be used as the basis to terminate post-acute care services. For those services to be terminated in accordance with MA regulations, the patient must no longer meet the level of care requirements needed for the post-acute care at the time the services are being terminated, which can only be determined by re-assessing the individual patient’s condition prior to issuing the notice of termination of services. Additionally, for inpatient admissions, CMS noted that algorithms or AI alone cannot be used as the basis to deny admission or downgrade to an observation stay; the patient’s individual circumstances must be considered against the permissible applicable coverage criteria.

Published on:

Among the plethora of different contractors used by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to administer the Medicare program is the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor, or SMRC. Like the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and others, the SMRC – of which there is only one at any given time – also audits the claims submitted for reimbursement by Medicare providers and suppliers and issues allegations that providers have received overpayments. Noridian Healthcare Solutions, which is also a MAC, was selected as the SMRC in 2018 and remains the current SMRC.

SMRC audits generally begin with an Additional Documentation Request (ADR), usually in a distinctive green envelope with the Noridian SMRC letterhead or logo. After the provider submits the requested records, the SMRC conducts the review based on the analysis of national claims data, statutory and regulatory coverage, and coding, payment, and billing requirements. The SMRC should eventually issue a Review Results Letter. Providers should be aware that a SMRC review can sometimes last for several months with no intervening correspondence or status updates from the SMRC. Providers who expect, but have not received, a SMRC response should consider carefully checking their Medicare EOBs for activity their MAC may have taken based on the SMRC audit and note any appeal deadlines. Also, providers should be aware that the SMRC is a regional contractor who is allowed to conduct audits nationwide and thus may misunderstand local rules, state laws, or LCDs. SMRC audit findings should generally be carefully scrutinized.

SMRC audit findings also have an additional appeal mechanism available to them. Where the SMRC denies claims, the provider generally has a right to appeal the findings directly to the SMRC and can sometimes request a discussion and education session directly with the SMRC. If the SMRC denies the appeal, it will refer the case to the provider’s local MAC to collect the alleged overpayment or to other government agencies for further action. Where the MAC demands that the provider return an overpayment based on the SMRC’s findings, that demand is subject to the standard Medicare claims appeal process.

Published on:

The integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into healthcare represents a frontier of innovation, offering transformative potential for patient care, diagnostic accuracy, and operational efficiency. However, as healthcare providers and technology companies rapidly adopt AI solutions, navigating the complex landscape of regulatory compliance becomes increasingly crucial. This landscape is defined by focuses on patient safety, data privacy, and ethical standards, making regulatory compliance as critical as the technological advancements themselves.

At the heart of healthcare regulation is the imperative to ensure patient safety and efficacy of care. Regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been active in establishing frameworks for the approval and use of AI-driven medical devices and software. While FDA generally has authority to regulate medical devices, there are important limits on its authority. Users of AI tools that assist practitioners in analyzing a patient’s symptomology and rendering a diagnosis may want to explore whether the tool constitutes a Clinical Decision Support tool, which are generally beyond the scope of FDA regulation.

While AI can provide powerful tools to assist licensed healthcare practitioners, there may be significant implications where an AI tool attempts to replace a licensed healthcare practitioner. These implications include both ethical considerations for the licensed practitioner and compliance consideration for the unlicensed user of an AI-driven tool. Every state issues licenses to practice within a certain scope of practice and limits conduct within that scope of practice to holders of a license. For example, generally only licensed medical doctors may practice medicine. A licensed medical practitioner who allows an AI-driven tool to dictate patient care and fails to exercise independent medical judgement may have violated ethical and legal obligations under their applicable license. On the other hand, the unlicensed user of an AI-driven tool may face accusations of authorized practice where the tool is performing activities that are limited only to licensed physicians, nurses, etc.

Contact Information