Published on:

As a result of the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, private equity (PE) investment activity saw a significant decline in many industries throughout the remainder of 2020. However, PE investments in healthcare have been viewed by some as a form of safe haven as the U.S. economy began to revitalize in the second half of 2020. While total deal value decreased by 7% from 2019 to 2020, total deal count increased by 10% as more investors looked to add-on existing platforms rather than seeking out new, larger targets of interest. Healthcare providers should be aware of some potential considerations when entering into PE investments or engaging in merger and acquisition activity.

A significant amount of deal activity materialized as a response to the numerous forced shutdowns caused by the pandemic. According to one survey conducted by the Alliance of M&A Advisors, while PE deals in other sectors experienced varying degrees of depressed activity levels through the Summer of 2020, healthcare transactions had the highest successful close rate of any industry (approximately 32%). Reported deal activity returned to 97% of pre-COVID levels by December 2020. Entering 2021, the PE transactions market remained very active, in large part due to PE firms being able to obtain cheap debt financing due to low interest rates. The transition to a new presidential administration and anticipated tax increases also caused many providers to contemplate exits ahead of potential increases in capital gains rates. Some areas worth noting that have garnered particularly strong preference amongst PE investors are behavioral and mental health, home health, and health technology services. While primary care has historically seen less PE activity than other healthcare segments, this seems to be changing as value-based care and capitated payment models become more popular.

Regarding business concerns relative to PE activity, there are many issues that are unique to the healthcare industry and providers should make sure that they have a clear understanding of how deals with PE investors may implicate these considerations. At the most basic level, states with corporate practice of medicine laws may restrict what types of entities or individuals may own or control a medical practice. Also, complex corporate structures and those that involve cross-ownership or ownership of multiple types of providers may implicate federal or state fraud and abuse laws, such as the Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute, and EKRA. As a practical consideration, long-time healthcare providers entering ventures with PE entities should ensure they understand how control of operations and the flow of revenues are allocated in the resulting structure. Moreover, the Executive Order issued by President Biden in July 2021 directs law enforcement to “focus in particular on … healthcare markets (which includes prescription drugs, hospital consolidation, and insurance), and the tech sector.” This may well result in heightened scrutiny of PE transaction in the healthcare industry and may also lengthen the timeline for closing deals in order to ensure compliance.

Published on:

Healthcare providers who missed a Provider Relief Fund (PRF) reporting deadline may get a second chance. In response to overwhelming industry outcry over its attempts to clawback PRF payments, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which currently administers the PRF, will being accepting applications from providers who missed a reporting deadline to file a late report. Requests to file a late report must be filed between April 11 and April 22 and must include an “extenuating circumstance” justifying the request.

The PRF is a $178 billion fund created by Congress through the CARES Act and administered to provide financial relief to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS has subdivided the PRF into various general and targeted distributions. These distributions were paid to providers in several waves between April 2020 and the present. The first payments under the PRF, in April 2020, were unsolicited and were deposited directly into providers’ bank accounts without prior application or notification. While this infusion of cash was likely a welcome relief at the time, it came with strings attached. The two major requirements for a provider to keep the PRF payment were to only use the funds for specific COVID-related purposes and to file a report with HRSA justifying use of the funds.

The first of these reports were due on September 30, 2021, but that date was later extended into early December 2021. In March 2022, HRSA began sending letters to providers who had not filed reports indicating that they were now required to return the full amount of any PRF funds received within 30 days. After significant outcry from providers, representatives, and industry groups, HRSA has backtracked and will now accept requests to file late reports.

Published on:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has withdrawn its interim final rule requiring arbitrators in the independent dispute resolution (IDR) process under the No Surprises Act (NSA) to select the payment rate closest to the insurers’ median in-network rate (i.e., the Qualified Payment Amount or QPA, discussed further below). HHS’ move represents an official and significant victory for providers.

Under the No Surprises Act (NSA), if a provider and insurance company cannot resolve a disagreement over payment for out-of-network services through negotiation, the parties may proceed to a “baseball-style” arbitration. In this process, a third party chooses one appropriate payment from two suggestions offered by the provider and the insurer, taking into account certain considerations. In a July 2021 interim final rule, promulgated jointly by HHS, the Department of Labor (DOL), and the Treasury Department, the agencies adopted certain elements of the No Surprises Act, including the methodology for establishing the QPA. Essentially, the QPA is the medium rate the insurer would have paid for the service if provided by an in-network provider or facility. Under the September 2021 interim final rule, the agencies established a process in which the arbitrator must select the proposed payment amount closest to the QPA, unless certain conditions are met. In other words, the rule creates a rebuttable presumption that the amount closest to the QPA is the proper amount. Healthcare providers generally viewed this rebuttable presumption unfavorably because it allegedly conflicts with the NSA, which established specific circumstances for consideration in addition to the QPA.

Healthcare providers proceeded to challenge the rule and ultimately on February 23, 2022, a federal judge in Texas agreed with those providers in the case of Texas Medical Association v. US Department of Health and Human Services. The case held that the September 2021 interim final rule does in fact conflict with the plain language of the NSA and that the agencies improperly bypassed notice and comment rulemaking when promulgating the rule. HHS announced withdrawal of the interim final rule in light of the federal court’s decision. While the court held that the NSA requires the arbitrator to consider all of the specified factors when determining the reimbursement rate, without giving weigh to any one factor, HHS has not yet adopted this interpretation. HHS announced that it will be re-issuing guidance, but has not yet provided a specific date.

Published on:

During the Federal Bar Association’s annual Qui Tam Conference on February 23, 2022, Gregory E. Demske, Chief Counsel to the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), discussed OIG’s role in False Claims Act (FCA) enforcement, as well as enforcement priorities for 2022.

Demske’s remarks provide insight into the role OIG plays in deciding which FCA matters to pursue and the enforcement tools that OIG utilizes in FCA matters, with a focus on the Office’s exclusion authority. In any given year, OIG adds approximately 1,000 to 4,000 people to the List of Excluded Individuals/Entities (LEIE), and many of these exclusions are imposed as the result of convictions or lost licenses. Under OIG’s formal protocol for prioritizing cases for exclusion, the Office’s Fraud Risk Indicator provides guidance regarding how OIG assesses the future risk that the party poses to Federal healthcare programs. On the low end of the spectrum, typically involving self-disclosure cases, OIG generally resolves such cases quickly by providing release from potential exclusion without any further requirements. For cases on the high end of the spectrum, where OIG determines that the party presents a high risk of fraud, OIG may pursue its administrative remedies and exclude the party from participation in Federal healthcare programs. Demske concluded by explaining that in most FCA matters today, OIG will elect not to pursue its own administrative remedies, but rather provide a release from potential exclusion and participate in the monetary settlement process with DOJ.

Also during his remarks, Demske discussed OIG’s enforcement priorities moving forward in 2022. Those priorities are as follows:

Published on:

On February 22, 2022, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hosted a webinar detailing its current transition plans for medical devices marketed pursuant to either Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) or Enforcement Policies during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). The primary purposes of the webinar were to help prepare manufacturers and other stakeholders for the upcoming transition back to normal operations, provide examples illustrating the transition policies, and outline the 180-day transition period timeline. Providers that may be affected are encouraged to be proactive and take steps to understand FDA’s proposed plan and become prepared to handle the upcoming transition.

The FDA’s transition plans and policies are laid out in two recent draft guidance documents, Transition Plan for Medical Devices Issued EUAs During the COVID-10 PHE (EUA Transition Plan) and Transition Plan for Medical Devices That Fall Within Enforcement Policies Issued During the COVID-19 PHE (Enforcement Policy Transition Plan), which are to be implemented with a focus on four key principles:

  • an orderly, transparent transition with consistent FDA-manufacturer interactions,
Published on:

Physician referrals for clinical laboratory services are a common focus of federal regulatory and enforcement actions. Numerous statutes and their implementing regulations, including the Stark Law, Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), and the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (EKRA), may be implicated where a physician refers clinical lab services to an entity in which the physician has a financial interest. However, the “in-office ancillary” exception to the Stark Law provides an important exception.

The Physician Self-Referral Law, often referred to as the Stark Law, prohibits “physicians” (generally including MDs, DOs, dentists, optometrists, and chiropractors) from referring patients to receive “designated health services” payable by Medicare or Medicaid from entities with which the physician or an immediate family member has a financial relationship, unless an exception applies. Financial relationships include both compensation and ownership or investment interests. Designated health services include clinical laboratory services, PT and OT, DME, some imaging services, and several other services. Some of the most common exceptions to the Stark Law include the in-office ancillary exception, fair market value compensation, and bona fide employment relationships. CMS has also recently implemented exceptions related to value-based arrangements.

“In Office Ancillary” services are an exception to the Stark Law. Generally, under the “in office ancillary” exception, the Stark Law does not apply to services that (1) are performed by the referring physician, another physician in the same group practice, or an individual supervised by the referring physicians or another physician in the same group practice; (2) are performed in the same building as the referring physician or their group practice offers services or in another centralized location; and (3) are billed by the performing physician, the supervising physician, their group practice, or a subsidiary that is wholly owned by the group practice.

Published on:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has again delayed implementation of a rule that would cause it to review many of its regulations and would eliminate regulations that HHS fails to review. The rule had the potential to remove many non-statutory restrictions that HHS has placed on the healthcare industry. This delay likely presages the ultimate repeal of the rule.

The SUNSET Rule, which was finalized in the closing days of the Trump Administration, requires HHS to assess its current rules. First, HHS would determine whether a rule has a significant economic impact on a large number of small entities. If it does, then HHS would consider the complaints against the rule, the original asserted need for the rule, the complexity of the rule, and whether the rule is duplicative of or in conflict with any other rules. HHS would ultimately determine whether the rule is still needed, should be reworked, or should be withdrawn. Any rule that is not reviewed by HHS every ten years would expire. Any rule that was more than ten years old at the time the SUNSET Rule came into effect would expire unless it was reviewed within five years.

Under the Biden Administration, HHS first delayed the implementation of the SUNSET.  Then, in late 2021, HHS proposed to repeal the SUNSET Rule in its entirety. HHS’ rational for the proposed repeal was that it did not have sufficient resources to review all of its regulations within the required timeframes and this would cause some regulations to expire before HHS could complete reviews. While this position may indicate that HHS has engaged in excessive rule-making, HHS’ most recent proposal evinces a likely intent to repeal the SUNSET Rule in its entirety. In March 2022, HHS again delayed the implementation of the SUNSET Rule, including that it was still considering public comments to its proposal to repeal the Rule.

Published on:

When a Medicare contractor denies a claim, whether as part of a pre-pay, post-pay, Targeted Probe and Educate, statistically extrapolated, or other type of review or audit, the provider generally has a right to a lengthy appeal process. The process is complex and often relies on strictly enforced deadlines and requirements. In some circumstances claims can take years to fully progress through the appeals process. However, some limited cases may be eligible for settlement.

There are several entities that perform Medicare audits. The federal agency that oversees Medicare, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), performs few audits itself, but outsources these duties to a series of independent contractors, such as Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), Unified Program Integrity Contractors (UPICs), and the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SRMC). The vast majority of audits are performed by these contractors, although they will often use CMS’s name or logo in their correspondence and may answer phone calls by saying that they are “with Medicare.”

A healthcare provider’s options in responding to a Medicare audit are available from the very beginning. Sometimes providers receive Additional Document Requests (ADRs) from the contractor demanding information or documentation on a claim or claims. These requests should be reviewed carefully; however, they often contain boilerplate or generic language and it may be difficult to determine which specific documentation the contractor is requesting. Once the contractor reviews any additional documentation and other information that the provider supplies, the contractor will issue its audit findings and determine whether to deny certain claims. Other times, the contractor will audit claims data or other information and issue audit findings without requesting additional information from the provider.

Published on:

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contracts with a Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), which performs a variety of Medicare and Medicaid audit and medical review tasks. Noridian Healthcare Solutions, which is also a Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), was selected as the SMRC in 2018. The SMRC conducts nationwide medical reviews of Medicare Parts A and B, DMEPOS, and Medicaid claims for compliance with coverage, coding, payment, and billing requirements. The focus of the medical reviews may include areas identified by CMS data analysis, the Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program, professional organizations, and federal oversight agencies. At the request of CMS, the SMRC may also carry out other special projects.

SMRC audits are referred to as projects and there are three categories of SMRC project reviews:

  • Healthcare Fraud Prevention Partnership (HFPP) Review: Based on fraud, waste, and abuse trends identified by the HFPP.
Published on:

The Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act (“EKRA”) is an incredibly broad and incredibly vague criminal statute that continues to create compliance issues for clinical laboratories. Many arrangements between clinical laboratories and other entities that were previously compliant, or which are currently authorized under other federal statutes, may be unlawful under EKRA.

Congress enacted EKRA in 2018 and, throughout its drafting, it was intended to address patient brokering and kickback schemes in addiction treatment and recovery. For example, EKRA was targeted at individuals who received kickbacks for steering patients into sober living and recovery homes. However, shortly before EKRA was passed and with little consideration of the implications, the words “or laboratory” were inserted into the draft such that EKRA now likely applies to all referrals to clinical laboratories, regardless of payor and regardless of whether the testing relates to addiction treatment or recovery.

EKRA broadly prohibits paying, offering, receiving, or soliciting any remuneration in return for referrals to recovery homes, clinical treatment facilities, or laboratories. Further, EKRA is a criminal statute, the penalties for violation of which, up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $200,000, cannot be taken lightly. Like two other major federal healthcare fraud, waste, and abuse laws, the Anti-Kickback Statute and the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the Stark Law), EKRA contains a few exceptions. However, they are far fewer in number and often narrower than their counterparts in the older statutes.

Contact Information