The Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously held in Linda Cowley v. Virtua Health System (A-47-18) (081891) that the “common knowledge” exception of the Affidavit of Merit Statute applies only when a simple negligence standard is at issue, and does not apply when a specific standard of care must be evaluated.  In this case involving if and how to reinsert a removed nasogastric tube, the Court reversed the judgement of the Appellate Division and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice because she failed to submit an affidavit of merit within the time required by the Affidavit of Merit Statute.

Enacted in 1995, the Affidavit of Merit Statute requires that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases “provide each defendant with an affidavit of an appropriate licensed person that there exists a reasonable probability that the care, skill or knowledge exercised or exhibited in the treatment, practice or work that is the subject of the complaint, fell outside acceptable professional or occupational standards or treatment practices.” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-27. The statute’s primary purpose “to require plaintiffs in malpractice cases to make a threshold showing that their claim is meritorious, in order that meritless lawsuits readily [can] be identified at an early stage of litigation.” Cornblatt v. Barow, 153 N.J. 218, 242 (1998). Failure to provide an affidavit or its legal equivalent is “deemed a failure to state a cause of action,” N.J.S.A. 2A:53A-29, requiring dismissal with prejudice.

An exception to this rule is the judicially-created “common knowledge” exception which provides that an expert is not needed to demonstrate that a defendant professional breached some duty of care “where the carelessness of the defendant is readily apparent to anyone of average intelligence.” Rosenberg v. Cahill, 99 N.J. 318, 325 (1985). In those exceptional circumstances, the “jurors’ common knowledge as lay persons is sufficient to enable them, using ordinary understanding and experience, to determine a defendant’s negligence without the benefit of the specialized knowledge of experts.” Hubbard v.  Reed, 168 N.J. 387, 394 (2001). Thus, a plaintiff in a malpractice case is exempt, under the common knowledge exception, from compliance with the affidavit of merit requirement where it is apparent that “the issue of negligence is not related to technical matters peculiarly within the knowledge of [the licensed] practitioner[].” Sanzari v.  Rosenfeld, 34 N.J. 128, 142 (1961).

Continue Reading New Jersey Affidavit of Merit Statute Applied to Nursing Case Despite “Common Knowledge” Claim

On March 23, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 109, which “limit[ed] non-essential adult elective surgery and invasive procedures, whether medical or dental, [in order to] assist in the management of vital healthcare resources during this public health emergency.” The purpose of EO 109 was to “limit[] exposure of healthcare providers, patients, and staff to COVID-19 and conserve[] critical resources such as ventilators, respirators, anesthesia machines, and Personal Protective Equipment (‘PPE’) [that] are essential to combatting the spread of the virus.” At the time EO 109 was executed, coronavirus cases were rapidly increasing within the State. On March 23rd, New Jersey had 2,844 coronavirus cases in all 21 counties, an increase of 935 over the previous day, and at least 27 people had died.

In the weeks that followed, New Jersey saw the surge in cases for which it was preparing. On April 4, the three-day average of new confirmed positive COVID-19 cases peaked at 4,064 cases, and by April 14th, there were 8,084 of COVID-related hospitalizations and a staggering 1,705 patients on ventilators. But since that time, thanks to social distancing and New Jersey’s ability to flatten the curve, these numbers have fallen drastically. By May 11th, the three-day average of new, positive cases had fallen to 1,572 new cases—a 61 percent decrease. Likewise, the three-day average of new hospitalizations had fallen to 4,277 patients—a 48 percent decrease.

In light of this decreased burden on the healthcare system, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order 145, which allows for elective surgeries to resume as of 5 am on May 26, 2020. EO 145 provides that elective surgeries and invasive procedures may proceed at both licensed healthcare facilities and in outpatient settings not licensed by the Department of Health (e.g., health care professional offices, clinics, and urgent care centers), subject to limitations and precautions set forth in policies to be issued by the Division of Consumer Affairs, in consultation with the Department of Health, by Monday, May 18, 2020. EO 145 further states that the Department of Health and/or the Division of Consumer Affairs may issue supplemental or amended policies concerning elective surgeries and elective invasive procedures on or after Monday, May 18, 2020.

Continue Reading Guidance Issued on Resuming Elective Surgeries in New Jersey

To address the COVID-19 public health emergency fiscal burdens, Congress authorized and appropriated the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act[1], Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) for healthcare providers and facilities. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has begun to distribute several tranches of the Relief Funds. All totaled, Congress provided $175 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) through the CARES Act and the Payroll Protection Program and Health Care Act.[2]

As of May 7, 2020, HHS identified $50 billion for general distribution to Medicare providers. HHS distributed to Medicare providers the Relief Fund’s initial $45 billion tranche in April 2020, and is distributing the Relief Fund’s second $20 billion tranche. Also, HHS allocated Relief Funds to: hospitals in COVID-19 high impact areas ($10 billion); rural providers ($10 billion); Indian Health Services ($400 million), and skilled nursing facilities, dentists, and providers that take solely Medicaid (unidentified amounts).[3]

Continue Reading Appropriate Use of CARES Act Provider Relief Funds

One of the many relief efforts contained in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”), signed into law on March 27th, 2020, is a hiatus of sequestration as it applies to Medicare payments. Section 4408 of the CARES Act exempts Medicare from the effects of sequestration from May 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.[1] It also postpones the sunset of sequestration as it applies to Medicare from the end of 2029 to the end of 2030.

As background, on January 2, 2013, “sequestration,” automatic spending cuts applicable to all categories of the Federal budget, went into effect. Sequestration included a 2.0% reduction in most Medicare spending, and as a result of its implementation, many providers experienced reductions in their reimbursement. In addition to traditional fee-for-service Medicare payments, some Medicare Advantage plans reduced reimbursement under their contracts with providers to reflect the effect of sequestration, effectively passing on to providers the reductions in premiums recovered by such plans due to sequestration. Even non-Medicare reimbursement was affected for many providers whose participation agreements with plans contained fee schedules based off of Medicare reimbursement.

While this suspension of sequestration is certainly good news for providers participating in traditional fee-for-service Medicare, and plans offering Medicare Advantage products, the effect the suspension will have on reimbursement for providers participating in Medicare Advantage or commercial lines of business which rely on Medicare rates is slightly less clear.

Continue Reading CARES Act Temporarily Suspends Sequestration: How Will It Affect Provider Reimbursement?

Certifications, Acknowledgments,
and Reports

The CARES Act[1], passed by Congress and signed into law on March 27, 2020, provides $100 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) to support eligible health care providers. Less than a month later, Congress passed the Payroll Protection Program and Health Care Act[2], providing an additional $75 billion to the Relief Fund, raising the total funds available to $175 billion. As of the end of April 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) released to providers two tranches of Relief Funds totaling $50 billion.[3] HHS disbursed the first $30 billion tranche (“Tranche 1”) between April 10 and April 17, 2020. Currently, HHS is disbursing the second $20 billion tranche (“Tranche 2”). Because these are grant funds – not loans – repayment is not required. What HHS requires is that the Recipients attest to and follow the Relief Fund’s Terms and Conditions. Before we turn to the Terms and Conditions, it is important to understand HHS’ Relief Fund disbursement process.

Relief Fund Disbursement Process

HHS disbursed the Tranche 1 Relief Funds as well as some of the Tranche 2 Relief Funds directly to providers participating in Medicare Part A and Part B. (“the Recipients”). Other Recipients must apply for the Relief Funds through the HHS’ on-line portal. No matter how the Recipient received the funds, either through direct payments or through the on-line application, all Recipients must attest to HHS’ published Terms and Conditions through the HHS on-line portal within 45 days after receiving the Relief Funds. Each tranche requires a separate attestation. If the Recipient retains the funds for at least 30 days without contacting HHS regarding the funds’ remittance, HHS deems the Recipient to have accepted the Terms and Conditions discussed below. There are two important considerations in determining whether to accept these funds:

  1. The Terms and Conditions for Tranche 2 Relief Funds differ in several respects from the Terms and Conditions for the Tranche 1 Relief Funds; and
  2. The Terms and Conditions listed provisions are not exhaustive and Recipients must also comply “with any other relevant applicable statutes and regulations”.

Continue Reading HHS Relief Fund’s Terms and Conditions – Reporting and Public Disclosure of Payments

On April 21, 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) published a Request for Information (“RFI”) that reopened the comment period for an interim final rule that was published March 31, 2010 (75 FR 16236) (the “2010 IFR” or the “IFR”). The IFR is being revisited in response to the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (SUPPORT Act) mandate for the DEA to update the requirements for the biometric component of multifactor authentication with respect to electronic prescriptions of controlled substances. Prior to the 2010 IFR, the only way that controlled substances could be prescribed was in writing, on paper with a wet signature. The IFR was the first time that an electronic alternative was made available for prescribing controlled substances and the DEA leveraged the technologies that were available at the time to ensure that electronic prescribing applications could not be misused to divert controlled substances.

To that end, the DEA fashioned their regulations to include measures that ensure that the prescriber verifies that they are who they said they are and that they are authorized and have the appropriate credentials to prescribe the medications that are being ordered. In other words, in order for a prescriber to be granted access to the technologies that would create, sign and transmit prescriptions for controlled substances electronically, they have to be appropriately authenticated and credentialed. In addition to requiring identity proofing and logical access controls that relied on multi-factor authentication, credentialing had to be conducted by federally approved credential service providers (CSPs) or by certification authorities (CAs). The IFR also included requirements for audit trails, security event reporting and provisions that governed the signing and transmission of electronic prescriptions to ensure that there was a process to address and resolve transmission failures.

While the IFR contemplated using biometrics to identify and authenticate prescribers, those technologies were still developing and evolving in 2010. Recently, under the SUPPORT Act, Congress required the DEA to update its regulations to identify the biometric component of the multi-factor authentication used to identity proof prescribers. The DEA is looking to the health care provider community who are currently using e-prescribing applications to share their experiences, offer suggestions and recommend new approaches that will encourage broad adoption for e-prescribing for controlled substances while still meeting the DEA’s objectives of ensuring the security and accountability necessary to identify fraud and prevent diversion.

Continue Reading Face or Fingerprint? The DEA Revisits Biometric Identifiers for e-Prescribing Controlled Substances

The U.S. Supreme Court decision today in Maine Community Health Options v. United States, is a major decision affecting healthcare and resolving a significant Obamacare dispute. The Affordable Care Act famously established online exchanges where insurers could sell their healthcare plans. It included the now-expired “Risk Corridors” program aimed to limit the plans’ profits and losses during the exchanges’ first three years (2014-16). The Act contained a formula for computing a plan’s gains or losses at the end of each year, providing that eligible profitable plans “shall pay” the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while the Secretary “shall pay” eligible unprofitable plans. But the Act did not appropriate funds that the Secretary could dispense or cap the amounts that the Secretary would pay to unprofitable plans. Nor was there any budget neutrality stated in the Act. The program was something less than a great success and, after three years, in which unprofitable plans outnumbered those that were profitable, the net deficit was more than $12 billion. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) couldn’t make any payments to unprofitable plans because, each year, its budget appropriation included a rider preventing CMS from using the funds for Risk Corridors payments. Four unprofitable plans brought suit against the government under the Tucker Act, alleging that the ACA obligated the government to pay the full amount of their negative deficit. With Justice Sotomayor writing for seven other Justices (Alito, J. dissented, and Thomas, J. and Gorsuch, J. did not join one section of the majority opinion), the Court agreed with the plans and reversed the Federal Circuit’s holding that while the ACA initially created an initial obligation, the subsequent riders vitiated it.

Continue Reading Supreme Court: The ACA & Risk Corridor Obligations

As an update to our prior blog post, on April 20, 2020 FDA announced the authorization of the first COVID-19 test for home collection of specimens. This announcement, made via the Agency’s FAQs on Diagnostic Testing for SARS-CoV-2 webpage, comes after weeks of FDA reporting that it has been working closely with manufacturers on such a test during the weekly Virtual Town Hall Meetings hosted by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health. FDA clarifies that the test is only authorized for home collection of specimens to be sent back to a laboratory for processing. FDA still has not authorized a COVID-19 test “to be completely used and processed at home.”

According to the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) letter for the test, the new home collection method involves the use of a nasal swab, as opposed to a nasopharyngeal swab. Home collection is only permitted “when determined by a healthcare provider to be appropriate based on results of a COVID-19 questionnaire.” Instructions for self-collection must be made available to individuals online or as part of the collection kit, and the kit must include materials allowing the patient to safely mail the specimen to an authorized laboratory. The letter states that the EUA will be in effect until there is a declaration that the circumstances justifying this authorization is terminated or revoked.

Continue Reading FDA Authorizes the First Home Collection of Specimens to Be Tested for COVID-19

Our colleagues Eric Moran and Elena M. Quattrone, attorneys at Epstein Becker Green, co-authored an article in The New York Law Journal, titled “Federal Courts Set Out Preconditions for Prisoner Release Because of COVID-19 Risk” (registration required).

Following is an excerpt:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread throughout the nation, federal prisons are experiencing an unprecedented crisis due to its inability to implement social distancing, resulting in exponential increases in COVID-19 cases among inmates and prison staff. On April 14, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) released troubling data: In just one week, its 122 institutions saw a staggering increase in confirmed positive cases, including 446 inmates and 248 staff members, with 14 federal inmate COVID-19-related deaths. (https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/ (April 15, 2020)).

With the pandemic raging, attorneys representing non-violent defendants in the federal system confront a vexing question: Where does traditional communal incarceration stand in the face of a pandemic that demands social distancing?

For non-violent offenders, the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) could provide an avenue for vulnerable defendants facing, or serving, prison time to seek a sentence reduction based on individual health concerns. The FSA authorizes a sentencing judge to grant a motion by the BOP, or a defendant who has exhausted administrative remedies, for compassionate release—reducing a term of imprisonment or imposing a non-custodial sentence—if “extraordinary and compelling reasons warrant such a reduction.” 18 U.S.C. §3582(c)(1)(A)(i).

But pro forma applications for release under the FSA are unlikely to succeed. Counsel who invoke the FSA citing COVID-19 concerns must take care to overcome all necessary procedural hurdles, and articulate something more than the “mere presence” of the pandemic to obtain relief. A recent decision from the Third Circuit, developments in the Chunn litigation in the Eastern District of New York, and the Department of Justice’s new policies on applying the FSA offer important guidance for attorneys looking to reduce their clients’ sentences in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. …

Subscribe to New York Law Journal for complimentary access to the full article and contact the authors for more information and updates.

Governor Murphy signed a number of bills into law on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 to help mitigate various negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The selection below illustrates new laws that specifically seek to facilitate the running of certain business operations as well as help licensed professionals, which may be of interest to a wide array of health care providers.

  • Remote Notarial Acts: In order to keep various business operations moving, the Governor signed A-3903/S-2336, which allows remote notarial acts during a public health emergency and state of emergency as declared by the Governor in Executive Order 103. There are certain exceptions relating to family law and documents governed by the Uniform Commercial Code. This law is effective immediately, but it will expire once Executive Order 103 is rescinded.
  • Remote Operations for Non-Profits: In what many nonprofit organizations may see as a welcome move Governor Murphy signed S-2342/A-3915, which amends New Jersey’s nonprofit corporation law to allow nonprofits to conduct certain corporate meetings using remote communication during a state of emergency declared by the Governor. Specifically, a meeting by the members may occur to the extent the board of directors authorizes and adopts guidelines and procedures governing such a meeting. The law is effective as of signing, and may be a useful tool for nonprofit organizations during this pandemic.

Continue Reading Governor Murphy Signs Various Bills into Law Seeking to Help Business Operations and Health Care Providers