Articles Posted in Health Law

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During a hearing on July 17, 2018, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan announced that HHS is interested in reforming the Stark law and the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). As value-based care is becoming more prominent in the healthcare system, coordinated care between providers is a necessity; but the Stark law and AKS are considered an impediment to coordinated care. Hargan contends that since the Stark law was created in a fee-for-service context, it “may unduly limit ways that physicians and healthcare providers can coordinate patient care [in a value-based system].”

HHS’s push for reform comes out of the “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care,” which is an initiative launched by CMS that seeks to remove barriers to coordinated care while still upholding laws and rules that keep patients safe. According to Hargan, HHS is working on creating administrative rules to address these barriers.

Aside from the regulatory hurdles that the Stark law imposes on coordinated care, HHS is also concerned about the strict liability aspect of the Stark law. Strict liability imposes civil liability with monetary penalties onto the provider, regardless of the intent underlying the Stark law violation arises from an accident. HHS believes that strict liability turns providers away from entering into coordinated care arrangements, because the complexity of the Stark law may cause providers to violate it unintentionally and become liable. A suggested change from HHS is to define “noncompliance” in a clearer manner, which would allow providers to feel more at ease with participating in coordinated care.

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The 340B drug discount program was originally created to provide affordable and comprehensive drug services to indigent patients. Manufacturers agree to provide prescription drugs to covered entities at significantly reduced prices, who can then offer the discounted prescription drugs to eligible patients. Covered entities include: HRSA-supported health centers, Ryan White clinics, State AIDS Drug Assistance programs, Medicare/Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospitals, Children’s Hospitals, and other safety net providers.

The Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar is concerned about the 340B program; he suggests that there has been abuse of the program by covered entities.  Azar stated that “[t]he current nature of 340B is such that it is quite possible for the program’s benefits to be diverted to unintended purposes, unrelated to supporting care for low-income patients.” In fact, many 340B hospitals are able to receive drug discounts for all of their patients, even though there are only a small amount of uninsured and underserved patients at the hospital. A report by the OIG found that a majority of 340B entities do not even offer the reduced prices to uninsured patients, allowing them to profit off the program.

In a meeting with lawmakers, Azar proposed to cut the discount to 20% of the list price, which is significantly lower than the typical 40-60% discount. This effort by HHS coincides with the Trump administration’s goal to lower prescription drug prices.

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On July 12, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a statement proposing significant changes to Medicare that would modernize and restructure the Medicare program to deliver increased quality of care at a lower cost to beneficiaries. This will be done by utilizing a value-based healthcare system that works with modern-day technology. The proposal primarily alters the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program.

CMS’s proposal coincides with its Patients Over Paperwork initiative, because it reduces the paperwork requirements for billing, thereby enabling doctors to spend more time with their patients.  The proposed changes to the Physician Fee Schedule and Quality Payment Program will streamline documentation requirements to reduce the administrative burdens on providers. Generally, providers create medical records that use boiler plate language to satisfy Medicare billing requirements, which often contain few details specific to the patient and their personal stories. Allowing providers to designate a plan of care based upon what the provider determines from the time spent with the patient and not based upon documentation guidelines will significantly increase the quality of care.

If the proposal is effectuated, it will modernize payment policies so that telehealth will be more available to Medicare beneficiaries. When a beneficiary virtually contacts their provider (through telephone or other telecommunication devices) to determine whether they need and in-office visit or not, Medicare would cover this service. Additionally, there would be coverage for a physician’s time when they review images or videos sent to them for a diagnosis. CMS would also like to have a patient’s updated medical records follow the patient throughout the healthcare system. This would increase transparency and collaboration by allowing all of the patient’s providers to see the patient’s medical history in full.

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Recently, Congress enacted a law offering additional benefits to Medicare beneficiaries with various chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, complications from injury, and heart failure. The Creating High-Quality Results & Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act adds coverage to nutrition, transportation, and housing in order to be proactive in the prevention and minimization of chronic illnesses.

The new measures will only apply to individuals with a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan, which is a HMO or PPO plan offered by private companies and approved by Medicare. According to Title III of the Act, the changes are part of a MA value-based insurance design, allowing MA plans to create structures that vary benefits, cost-sharing, and supplemental benefits offered to enrollees with qualifying chronic diseases. This insurance design model is being tested in a number of states, including Michigan. The model approach will inform policymakers of the services that offer the most benefits to different populations, which may prompt policymakers to expand those benefits to people in the rest of Medicare.

MA plans will include services such as in-home assistance with bathing, nursing, and medication; supervised housing for those with dementia; wheelchair ramps; transportation to doctor’s appointments; meal delivery; and expanded telehealth. The Act also expands telehealth for Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) by allowing the patients’ homes to be designated as an originating site, and by eliminating the usual telehealth geographical limitations for ACOs. Beneficiaries dealing with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) will now be able to receive in-home dialysis via telehealth so long as the individual receives a face-to-face clinical assessment once every three months.

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On June 22, 2018, the House of Representatives passed “one of the most significant congressional efforts against a drug crisis in our nation’s history,” according to Representative Greg Walden (R-Oregon). The legislation makes it easier for providers to treat patients suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, with a vote of 396 to 14.  The final bill, titled the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act, combined 58 smaller bills to create one comprehensive package that includes improvements to Medicaid, Medicare, and other various ways to address the opioid crisis.

The bill expands the use of telehealth services for addiction treatment and increases the accessibility to providers offering medication-assisted treatment.  In addition, the Institutes for Mental Disease exclusion, a law which blocked Medicaid from funding inpatient stays in mental/behavioral health facilities, was partially repealed under the bill, so that now state Medicaid programs may cover up to 30 days of inpatient care for eligible individuals with OUD.  Also, privacy protections for addicts that forbade any physician or other medical provider from sharing a patient’s medical history with another practitioner were lessened. Thus, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must establish hospital protocol that makes doctors aware of a patient’s addiction history in order to prevent accidental opioid prescription to patients suffering from OUD.

Aside from those key provisions, the bill also addresses other solutions to the opioid crisis. It is expanding Medicare coverage for OUD by adding methadone clinics to the program, expanding access to Medicaid for former foster youth and those transitioning out of incarceration, and increasing money for states to fund more Medicaid providers who treat OUD. Furthermore, the bill will increase the availability of naloxone (a rescue shot for opioid overdoses), ramp up the fight against fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, and order the Food and Drug Administration to explore non-addictive pain treatments.

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On June 24, 2018, amendments to the Professional Service Corporation Provisions (Chapter 2A) of the Michigan Business Corporations Act (BCA) will be in effect. In 2013, the Professional Service Corporation Act was incorporated into the body of the BCA as Chapter 2A, but was drafted in a way that created conflicting language between multiple provisions. According to Justin Klimko from the Corporate Laws Committee (Business Law Section), the main goal of amending Chapter 2A this year is to clarify that entities may be shareholders in Professional Corporations (PCs) if all of their owners are properly licensed. The amendments also clarify when individuals must sever their relationships with a PC.

The inconsistent language in Chapter 2A of the BCA created confusion as to whether entities may or may not be shareholders of PCs. Various sections were amended to address the discrepancies.

Under the previous language, PCs were prohibited from issuing shares “to anyone other than an individual who is licensed…” This language was inconsistent with other sections of Chapter 2A because it seemed to exclude entities. Thus, the new amendments resolve this contradiction by clarifying that a PC may issue shares to “an entity that is directly or beneficially owned only by persons that are licensed persons in 1 or more of the professional services provided by the professional corporation.” Furthermore, the amendments added to the definition of “licensed person” to allow the entity itself to be a licensed person if the entity is licensed to practice a professional service.

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On May 7, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a proposed rule that would rebrand the current Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (“EHR”) Incentives program into the Promoting Interoperability program (“PI”).

The EHR incentives program, created in 2011, encouraged eligible providers to adopt, implement, upgrade and demonstrate meaningful use of certified electronic health record technology (“CEHRT”). This program awarded over 544,000 health care providers with payment by February 2018.

With the great success of the incentives program, CMS is proposing changes that would create more transparency between patients and providers through greater access to health care information. To relieve burden to patients, and increase the ability to exchange health information among providers and patients, sharing and extracting files across systems is a new CEHRT requirement. Moreover, it will support increased patient access to their personal health information through secure email transmissions. The proposed PI program would also provide patients access to hospital price information via the internet.

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Urine drug testing is medical protocol for patients prescribed opioid drugs in order to monitor compliance and expose possible drug abuse or diversion.  In the wake of the opioid crisis, there has been an increase in the frequency and cost of urine drug tests, resulting in a corresponding increase in spending by Medicare and private insurance on such tests.  Between 2011 and 2014, spending on urine drug screens and genetic tests by Medicare and private insurance quadrupled to an estimated $8.5 billion per year.

The increase in the cost of urine drug tests is attributable to more expensive and high-tech ways of running the tests.  Presently, laboratories are moving away from simple urine screenings and installing machines for urine drug tests. There is a financial incentive attached to machine tests; under Medicare rules, each drug tested for within a single specimen validity test may be billed individually.

The spike in reimbursement by Medicare and private insurance has caught the attention of the federal government.  In 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) imposed stricter rules on billing for simple urine screens; however, these rules do not cover machine testing.  In addition, in 2011, the federal government settled with Millennium Health, LLC, one of the largest urine drug testing laboratories in the United States, for $256 million after it was alleged to have billed medically unnecessary urine drug and genetic tests.

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In March of 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Many Medicare Claims for Outpatient Physical Therapy Services Did Not Comply With Medicare Requirements[summary] (the “Report”) identifying millions of dollars of overpayments for outpatient physical therapy services and signaling potential for increased governmental scrutiny to practitioners within the discipline.

The Report revealed that an audit found $367 million in improper payments for outpatient physical therapy services between July 1 and December 31, 2013. The finding was based upon data extrapolation, in which the OIG reviewed 300 sample claims and determined that 184 of the claims (61.33%) did not comply with Medicare requirements for medical necessity, documentation, or coding.

The OIG directly faulted the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) for the overpayments, finding that the current controls in place are insufficient to prevent improper payments to providers. The OIG issued three recommendations to CMS in order to prevent future incorrect expenditures:

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On March 22, 2018, the latest development in American Hospital Association (AHA) v. Azar (formerly referred to as AHA v Burwell) emerged as Judge Boasberg issued an order to have the AHA develop strategies to assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in reducing the Medicare appeals backlog. The request comes in response to a lack of effective action by HHS to reduce the number of backlogged appeals.

Major events in the case include:

  • May 22, 2014: Initial complaint filed by the AHA, alleging that HHS was violating Federal law by failing to process appeals within the legally-mandated timeframes. The problem was and continues to be highlighted at the administrative law judge (ALJ) level of appeals, where wait times for the processing of claims regularly takes years;