On June 20, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published an advance copy of a request for information seeking public input on reforms to the Physician Self-Referral Law (or “Stark Law”).

The request for information stems from on-going efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to accelerate the government’s transformation from a fee-for-service to a value-based system focused on care coordination.  Dubbed the “Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care” (#RS2CC), HHS expressed an intent to first identify regulatory requirements that act as obstacles to coordinated care, and then issue guidance or revise regulations to address these obstacles and/or incentivize coordinated care.

In connection with this HHS initiative, CMS acknowledged and identified that certain aspects of the Stark Law may pose potential obstacles to coordinated care.  Through their request for information, CMS seeks additional information and input from the public to help achieve their goal of “reducing regulatory burden and dismantling barriers to value-based care transformation.”  In particular, CMS has asked the public to share their thoughts and experiences related to:

  • the structure of arrangements between DHS entities that are used to effectuate alternative payment models and novel financial arrangements;
  • potential revisions to current Stark Law exceptions and key defined terms that would serve to permit or encourage the implementation of alternative payment models; and
  • the creation of new Stark Law exceptions to permit or encourage the implementation of alternative payment models.

The request for information follows a number of other administrative actions and announcements focused on reforming the current regulatory environment, particularly with respect to physician arrangements and, more specifically, the Stark Law. In January, CMS Administrator Seema Verna announced a plan to form an interagency group focused on reviewing the regulatory barriers to alternative payment models created by the Stark Law.  In addition, the Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal, issued by the Office of Management and Budget in February, includes a proposal to reform the Stark Law to “better support and align with alternative payment models and to address overutilization.”  These more recent actions continue to build on concerns and suggestions identified in a white paper released by the Senate Finance Committee in 2016 titled “Why Stark? Why Now? Suggestions to Improve the Stark Law to Encourage Innovative Payment Models.”

This request is only the first formal step in the combined efforts of HHS and CMS to adopt what may be significant changes to the Stark Law.  However, the government appears to be poised to move quickly on regulatory reforms now that the ball is rolling, as evidenced by their branding of these efforts as a “sprint.”

Epstein Becker Green is in the process of coordinating with clients that are interested in submitting responses to the request for information.  If your organization is interested in developing comments to this request and would like assistance in these efforts, please contact Victoria Sheridan by e-mail at vsheridan@ebglaw.com or by phone at (973) 639-8296.

The final copy of the request for information is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on June 25, 2018.

Our colleague  at Epstein Becker Green has a post on the Technology Employment Law blog that will be of interest to our readers: “The GDPR Soon Will Go Into Effect, and U.S. Companies Have to Prepare.”

Following is an excerpt:

The European Union’s (“EU’s”) General Data Protection Regulations (“GDPR”) go into effect on May 25, 2018, and they clearly apply to U.S. companies doing business in Europe or offering goods and services online that EU residents can purchase. Given that many U.S. companies, particularly in the health care space, increasingly are establishing operations and commercial relationships outside the United States generally, and in Europe particularly, many may be asking questions akin to the following recent inquiries that I have fielded concerning the reach of the GDPR:

What does the GDPR do? The GDPR unifies European data and privacy protection laws as to companies that collect or process the personally identifiable information (“PII” or, as the GDPR calls it, “personal data”) of European residents (not just citizens). …

Read the full post here.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (“CMS”) recently announced its intent to expand what may be considered “supplemental benefits,” broadening the scope of items and services that could be offered to Medicare Advantage (“MA”) plan enrollees over and above the benefits covered under original Medicare. However, in articulating the standards for covering this broadened group of items and services, CMS proposed a new requirement that could greatly limit enrollees’ ability to access all types of supplemental benefits and increase the already substantial burden on MA participating providers; CMS now proposes to require that the supplemental benefits be ordered by a licensed provider.

Under current CMS guidance, supplemental benefits may not be a Part A or Part B covered service, must be primarily health related in that “the primary purpose of the item or service is to prevent, cure or diminish an illness or injury,” and the plan sponsor must incur a non-zero cost for the benefit. Medicare Managed Care Manual, Ch. 4, Sec. 30.1. Within the draft 2019 Call Letter, released on February 1, 2018, CMS proposes to expand the scope of items and services considered “primarily health related” to now include items and services to help maintain health status and not only those that “prevent, cure or diminish illness or injury.” According to CMS, under its new interpretation, in order for a service or item to be primarily health related “it must diagnose, prevent, or treat an illness or injury, compensate for physical impairments, act to ameliorate the functional psychological impact of injuries or health conditions, or reduce avoidable emergency and healthcare utilization.” Current CMS guidance explicitly excludes from being a supplemental benefit those items or services which are solely for daily maintenance purposes.  CMS’s broadened definition follows medical and health care research studies which have shown the value of certain ‘maintenance’ items and services in diminishing the effects of injuries or health conditions and decreasing avoidable emergency and health care services.

While broadening the scope of items and services eligible to be considered supplemental benefits, CMS concurrently proposes to add a more stringent standard to an enrollee’s receipt of such benefits. “Supplemental benefits under this broader interpretation must be medically appropriate and ordered by a licensed provider as part of a care plan if not directly provided by one.” Although current guidance specifies medical necessity as a standard for supplemental benefits that extend the coverage of original Medicare, there is no requirement that supplemental benefits be ordered by a licensed provider. Depending upon the nature of the supplemental benefit, such a rule could prevent an enrollee from accessing certain benefits. For example, plan sponsors may provide acupuncture or other alternative therapies as supplemental benefits, but enrollees would only be able to access such services if their provider accepts the value of such services and agrees that they are medically necessary. Given that many in traditional medicine do not support the use of alternative therapies, it is likely that at least some enrollees will be unable to access these benefits under this newly proposed standard.  Also, requiring a provider to review and order other types of supplemental benefits would likely create a paperwork burden with no benefit, including, for example, with respect to a supplemental transportation benefit, fitness benefit or over-the-counter drug benefit.

Although CMS should be applauded for seeking to expand the definition of “health related” in identifying eligible supplemental benefits, its proposal to require that such benefits be ordered by a provider as part of a treatment plan will decrease plan flexibility and increase burden for providers and enrollees alike, with minimal benefit.

CMS is accepting comments on the draft Call Letter through 6pm EST, Monday March 5, 2018.

On January 5, 2018, consistent with the 21st Century Cures Act’s focus on creating interoperability and correspondingly a Trusted Exchange, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) released its “Draft Trusted Exchange Framework” (“Draft Framework”).  The Draft Framework is intended to streamline the exchange of Electronic Health Information (“EHI”) so that both health care providers and patients have better access to health information, thus improving communication and quality health care.  EHI includes information beyond protected health information, such as health information from other consumer driven devices.  ONC has asked for public comments; the comment period is open until February 18, 2018.

ONC’s Draft Framework develops a mechanism to connect Health Integrated Networks (“Qualified HINs”) across the country. The ONC intends to select a single Recognized Coordinating Entity (“RCE”) through a competitive bidding process, which will be open in the spring of 2018.  The RCE’s responsibilities will be to develop the Common Agreement and operationalize the Trusted Exchange.  The Draft Framework includes the Principles of a Trusted Exchange (Part A) and the minimum terms and conditions that will be required for a Trusted Exchange (Part B) (the contractual terms that operationalize the principles of Part A).

The Draft Framework sets a number of conditions on Qualified HINs, some of which may require more direct interaction with patients than currently exists, or may require the Qualified HIN to disclose information that might otherwise be considered proprietary to the Qualified HIN. The biggest takeaways from the Principles (Part A) are:

  • Qualified HINs will be expected to use standards adopted or recognized by ONC’s Health IT Certification Program and Interoperability Standards Advisory (“ISA”) or industry standards readily available to all stakeholders;
    • Participants of Qualified HINs that provide services and functionality to providers are expected to follow the 2015 Edition Health IT Certification Criteria, 2015 Edition Base Electronic Health Record (EHR) Definition, and ONC Health IT Certification Program Modification final rule (“2015 Edition final rule”), and associated guidance for the certification of health IT; and
    • Qualified HINs and participants will be expected to implement processes that encourage more “person-centered” care;
  • Qualified HINs will be required to operate openly and transparently by:
    • Making terms and conditions for participation publicly available;
    • Supporting permitted uses and disclosures of EHI. Qualified HINs that only support HIPAA Treatment purpose exchanges, may want to support additional permitted purposes;
    • Making their privacy practices publicly available;
  • Qualified HINs must cooperate with and not discriminate among the various stakeholders across the continuum of care by not implementing policies, procedures, technology or fees that will obstruct access and exchange of EHI between other Qualified HINs, participants, and end users;
  • Qualified HINs must exchange EHI securely and in a manner that preserves data integrity by:
    • Including appropriate information to ensure the correct matching of individuals to their EHI; and
    • Ensuring providers and other organizations are confident that appropriate consents and authorizations have been captured;
  • Qualified HINs must ensure that individuals have easy access to their information by:
    • Ensuring full and consistent access to information; and
    • Having policies in place to allow an individual to withdraw or revoke his or her participation in the Qualified HIN; and
  • Qualified HINs will be expected to support the ability for participants to pull and push population level records—bulk transfer—in a single transaction rather than transmit one record at a time.

The Draft Framework is ONC’s most significant push toward interoperability among electronic health care systems and most likely will affect all stakeholders in the health IT industry and their participants at some point.

At this point, it’s not really ground-breaking news that America has a problem with opioid drugs. By way of anecdote, when I became a federal prosecutor in 2011, the last heroin case that had been prosecuted in the Nashville U.S. Attorney’s office was in the early-1990s; although, to be fair, there were then lots of what we called “pill” cases involving opioids. When I left the office in 2017, at least half of the office’s major investigations were directly related to opioids–some pills, but mostly outright heroin or fentanyl/carfentanyl . In Nashville, Tennessee, OxyContin (which is an opioid-based painkiller) can be worth up to $1.25/milligram (mg). That means that just one 80mg OxyContin has a street value of $100. Price, is of course, a reflection of demand and demand, in this case, is driven by addiction.

That addiction is costing Americans a lot of money. The White House estimates that in 2015, over 33,000 Americans died from opioid related overdoses and that the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504.0 billion, or 2.8% of GDP. To put that in some perspective, 2015 U.S. healthcare spending accounted for 17.7% of GDP, which means that Americans spent ~1/6 as much on opioids as they did on healthcare. State governments, often stuck footing the bill for indigent addicts because of increased law-enforcement activity and drug/medical treatment, are looking at the opioid manufacturers and distributors to help pay some of this cost.

In September, 41 state attorneys general announced serving subpoenas on 6 opioid manufacturers as part of a multi-state investigation into whether the companies engaged in any unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of prescription opioids. The attorneys general are also looking into the distribution practices of 3 pharmaceutical distributors that account for the distribution of roughly 90% of the U.S. opioid supply. According the N.Y. State AG, opioid distributors alone make nearly $500 billion a year in revenue, but those numbers (perhaps as a result of the market response to the negative publicity generated by all of this) might not be as robust as they once were. Stock prices (many of these companies are privately held) for two of the manufacturers subject to the AG subpoenas have seen stocks nose dive by ~90% and ~75% respectively after both achieving all-time highs in 2015. Of course, the reason for those drops is likely non-singular, but the timing does perhaps signal the market’s appetite for risk.

So, obviously, if you are an AG looking to combat a public health disaster, going after the manufacturers of opioids (who, at least in 2015, had lots of money), much like the manufacturers of tobacco is pretty appealing. That said, there are some considerations that are likely to be major impediments in the effort to make this into a big tobacco settlement:

  1. Prescription pills are prescribed by a medical doctor. Unlike the pack of cigarettes bought at the gas station from a clerk whose only responsibility is to verify age, opioids are, ostensibly, ordered by someone with years of advanced medical training. Pinning all the responsibility (or even just “most of it”) on manufacturers and distributors alone will be a challenge.
  2. The success of the tobacco litigation was driven in no small part by the efforts of Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, the exceptionally well-connected Mississippi lawyer who spearheaded the class-action effort and coalesced all the states into letting him be the point-man for all negotiations. Much of what made Scruggs successful in that effort–1) the self-proclaimed advantage of home cookin‘; 2) the ability to wheel and deal in the Capital thanks to his access to then Senate Majority Leader, and brother-in-law, Trent Lott; 3) the close relationship with then Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore (who, coincidentally, is advocating for the opioid suit, this time as a plaintiff’s attorney)–is unlikely to fly in today’s world given the guttural uneasiness associated with any of the tactics utilized by Scruggs, now a convicted felon for attempting to bribe a judge in a post-Katrina litigation, and overall discomfort with anything that smacks of nepotism.
  3. The stated goal of many of the proponents of the tobacco litigation was to put cigarette manufacturers out of business–this, of course, is a sentiment still voiced by some. But, no one is realistically seeking to litigate these pharmaceutical companies into the ground. While these companies manufacture opioids, they also research and manufacture drugs that help treat pediatric Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, among others. Simply, even if there is a settlement in all of this, the reality is that the settlement is likely to contemplate the ability of these companies to continue to research and manufacture the next wave of pharmaceutical improvements.

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to remove regulations that prohibit providers from blocking websites or charging for high quality service to access specific content. Many worry that allowing telecommunications companies to favor certain businesses will cause problems within the health care industry. Specifically, concerns have risen about the effect of the ruling on the progress of telemedicine and the role it plays in access to care. Experts worry that a tiered system in which service providers can charge more for speed connectivity can be detrimental to vulnerable populations.  Although the ramifications of the ruling are not entirely known, an exception for health care services would ensure that vulnerable populations can continue to gain access to care.

Telemedicine is often used as a tool to improve care by providing access to those who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to care. Through video consultation, patients have the ability to check-in with health care providers and access health specialists. Robust connectivity is vital for these services and community providers, and rural areas may lack the financial means to pay for optimal connectivity in a tiered framework.

In the past, the FCC recognized the importance of broadband connectivity to the health care industry. In 2015, the FCC‘s Open Internet Order acknowledged that health care is a specialized service that would be exempt from conduct based rules.  However, the new rule may undermine the 2015 Order and thus leave vulnerable populations at risk.

Moreover, the technology industry would likewise benefit from a health services exception. Innovation in health care delivery could be stifled by the FCC ruling and hurt the population as a whole. From tech start-ups to access-to-care advocates, various members of the health care ecosystem may need to anticipate building coalitions and urge the FCC to create an exception for health care services.

New rules issued on November 7, 2017 by FDA will make it easier for companies to offer certain types of genetic tests directly-to-consumers (DTC), without a health-care provider intermediary.

The first rule exempts “autosomal recessive carrier screening gene mutation detection systems” that are offered DTC from FDA premarket review.  FDA first proposed this exemption in 2015, on the same date as the agency issued a final order classifying these types of tests as Class II medical devices, in response to a request from 23andMe.  The 2015 final rule specified the conditions under which all companies could offer autosomal recessive carrier tests directly to the public.  By finalizing the exemption, FDA is permitting companies to offer these tests DTC without the need for prior FDA review.  These companies will still be subject to general requirements applicable to all medical device manufacturers, as well as to the “special controls” specified by FDA for these types of tests in the final rule.

Similarly, the second rule finalizes a new medical device classification for  DTC “genetic health risk assessment” (GHR)  (i.e., predictive) tests.  The classification specifies the conditions under which these tests may be marketed, and includes the requirement for a 510(k) premarket notification to FDA. However, in a Federal Register Notice, also issued yesterday, FDA proposes to exempt GHR tests from the 510(k) premarket submission requirement after a company has successfully obtained FDA clearance of its first GHR assay, and provided that the company continues to follow the specified special controls for this class of tests.  Comments to this proposed exemption are being accepted by FDA until January 8. 

Please reach out to Gail Javitt or the Food and Drug Law practice team members for additional information.

On November 1, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (“CMS”) released the Medicare Hospital Outpatient Prospective Payment System (“OPPS”) final rule (“Final Rule”), finalizing a Medicare payment reduction from Average Sales Price (“ASP”) + 6% to ASP – 22.5%, for 340B discounted drugs in the hospital outpatient setting, as was proposed in the OPPS proposed rule earlier this year. This payment reduction is effective January 1, 2018, and would primarily impact disproportionate share hospitals, rural referral centers, and non-rural sole community hospitals.

340B Program Generally

The 340B program, established by section 340B of the Public Health Service Act by the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992, generally allows for certain eligible health care providers (“Covered Entities”) to purchase outpatient drugs at discounted prices. The 340B program is administered by Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”).

CMS Policy Background for the Final Rule

In response to reports of the growth of 340B drug utilization by hospital providers, as well as the recent trends in high and growing prices of several separately payable drugs administered under Part B, CMS reexamined the appropriateness of the ASP +6% payment methodology to 340B drugs. This policy change as finalized would allow the Medicare program and beneficiaries to pay less for outpatient drugs, in a way that more closely aligns Medicare payment for 340B drugs to the resources expended by hospitals in acquiring such drugs. Additionally, CMS did not believe that beneficiaries should be responsible for a copayment rate tied to ASP + 6% when the actual cost to acquire the drug under the 340B program is much lower than the ASP for the drug.

340B Drug Payment Reduction

Under the Medicare program, CMS generally reimburses separately payable outpatient drugs and biologics based upon a drug’s ASP as reported by its manufacturer, plus a 6% markup, regardless of whether the drug is purchased at a 340B discount price. Drugs that are not separately payable are packaged into the payment for the associated procedure and no separate payment is made for them.

Effective January 1, 2018, CMS will reduce this payment rate to ASP – 22.5% for non-pass-through separately payable drugs and biologics acquired with a 340B discount. Excluded from this payment reduction are drugs or biologics that have pass-through payment status (which are required to be paid under the ASP + 6% methodology), or vaccines (which are excluded from the 340B program). In the proposed rule, CMS contemplated excluding blood clotting factors and radiopharmaceuticals from this payment reduction, however, CMS has decided to subject these two product types to the new policy. CMS noted that this ASP – 22.5% payment rate is based upon a 2015 MedPAC report in which MedPAC estimated that, on average, hospitals in the 340B Program “receive a minimum discount of 22.5 percent of the [ASP] for drugs paid under the [OPPS].”

Certain types of hospitals will not be affected by the change. CMS has exempted Covered Entities that are rural sole community hospitals, children’s hospitals, and cancer hospitals from this 340B drug payment reduction policy. Additionally, critical access hospitals are not affected by this policy because they are not paid under the OPPS. CMS has stated this payment reduction does not apply to 340B drugs furnished at non-excepted off-campus provider based departments.

To implement this payment reduction, CMS will be utilizing a claims modifier to track whether a drug is a 340B-acquired drug, and another claims modifier for whether the Covered Entity is exempt from this payment reduction policy. Hospitals will be required to report modifier “JG” with the associated nonpass-through separately payable drug’s HCPCS code to identify whether the drug was acquired with a 340B discount. The rural sole community hospitals, children’s hospitals, and cancer hospitals exempt from this payment reduction policy will be required to report the modifier “TB” with the associated HCPCS code of the 340B-acquired drug.

Additional Considerations

It is important to note that this new payment reduction policy generally does not apply to 340B drugs dispensed at contract pharmacies. Drugs reimbursed under the Medicare OPPS are generally physician administered drugs, whereas drugs dispensed at a contract pharmacy are generally self-administered retail drugs. Furthermore, this payment reduction policy does not affect 340B drug reimbursement for non-hospital Covered Entities, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and Ryan White Grantees.

While HRSA manages the 340B program, this payment reduction is specifically for drugs reimbursed under the Medicare program. Accordingly, this policy does not affect reimbursement of 340B drugs by other government or private payers. However, it is possible that the Final Rule may embolden other payers to follow suit by adopting 340B payment reductions similar to CMS.

Organizations representing hospitals already have announced intent to take legal action against this 340B drug payment reduction. This legal action will likely focus on arguments that CMS exceeded its statutory authority in its ability to calculate and adjust 340B acquired drug payment rates, and doing so in a manner that discriminates against safety net hospitals violates the Medicare statutes.

The OPPS Final Rule will be published in the Federal Register on November 13, 2017 and available online at https://federalregister.gov/d/2017-23932. Epstein Becker & Green is available to provide guidance on how this new policy affects you.

On April 14, 2017, CMS issued the FY 2018 Medicare Hospital IPPS Proposed Rule that includes numerous proposed changes.   However, there is a very small provision in this proposed rule that organizations may not be aware of …. especially those that are not hospitals and who normally would not look at the Hospital IPPS rule.

Within the rule, there is a section proposing to revise the application and re-application process for Accrediting Organizations so as to require them to post provider/supplier survey reports and plans of corrections on their website.   Although the survey results are currently available through a number of other methods, CMS states that they are proposing AOs be required to post this information on their websites “in order to advance the Department’s and Agency’s commitment to transparency in terms of patient access to quality and safety information. Access to survey reports and PoCs will enable health care consumers, in addition to Medicare beneficiaries, to make a more informed decision regarding where to receive health care thus encouraging health care providers to improve the quality of care and services they provide.”

In my communications and discussions with several AOs and health care providers, many are concerned that a requirement that AOs post this information on their websites will not achieve the desired result of providing consumers with more transparency, but instead will merely provide what otherwise might be considered confusing information.   Specifically, it has been advanced that requiring AOs to post these reports on their websites will not support the intent to help the public but instead will:

  • Jeopardize the necessary confidentiality of quality improvement work that takes place between organizations and accrediting bodies through the private accreditation survey to ensure quality outcomes that are already public through accreditation decisions;  and
  • Not produce meaningful information for patients or the public beyond extensive data already available through CMS, departments of health, and many other entities that report information to the public appropriate to their scopes and roles, but instead create confusion for the public and patients seeking valid quality data on a healthcare organization.

Comments are due to CMS no later than 5:00 pm EST on June 13, 2017.

In a previous blog post, we discussed a City of Chicago Ordinance, set to take effect on July 1, 2017, that will require pharmaceutical sales representatives to obtain a license before being able to operate within city limits. The draft rules for this ordinance were released on March 17, 2017.

These rules provide additional detail regarding the licensure requirements as well as other associated education and disclosure requirements with which pharmaceutical representatives will be expected to comply beginning in July of this year. In order to obtain initial licensure as a pharmaceutical representative, applicants must complete an online course that will provide an overview of these requirements.  Proof of course completion must be submitted along with the license application, which will cost $750.  To maintain the license, representatives must complete a minimum of 5 hours of continuing professional education every year thereafter.  Approved providers will be listed at www.cityofchicago.org/health.  Notably, continuing education provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers to their employees will not be accepted to fulfill the requirement. A licensed representative who does not meet these continuing education requirements may face substantial penalties, including suspension or revocation of the license, inclusion in a public list of representatives whose licenses have been revoked, and/or a fine between $1,000 and $3,000 per day of violation.

In addition to the professional education requirement, pharmaceutical representatives will also be required to track and report certain sales information on an annual basis or upon request by the Commissioner of Public Health. This information must include: a list of the health care professionals who were contacted, the location and duration of each contact, the pharmaceuticals that were promoted, and whether product samples or any other compensation was offered in exchange for the contact.[1]  For applicants who receive initial licensure, the time period for the data that must be collected and reported shall cover an 11-month period, starting on the day of licensure and ending one month before its expiration.  For representatives with a renewed license, the data shall cover a 12-month period that will begin one month before the license renewal and will end one more before its expiration.  If the Commissioner of Public Health requests the information at any other time, the request will designate the time period the submission must cover, and it will be due within 30 days of the request.

A pharmaceutical representative who is found to have violated any provision of the Ordinance or these rules will be subject to suspension or revocation of licensure and/or a fine of $1,000 to $3,000 per day of violation. Once a license is revoked, it cannot be reinstated for a period of two years from the date of revocation.[2]

These new requirements will undoubtedly place a significant burden on pharmaceutical manufacturers and their sales representatives who work in Chicago.[3]  The public is invited to submit any comments it may have on the proposed rules by April 2, 2017.

____

[1] Section 4-6-310(g)(1)

[2] Section 4-6-310(j)

[3] The requirements have already drawn considerable criticism from affected members of the pharmaceutical industry, who state that they will impose an unnecessary and harmful tax on one of the most important sectors of the city’s economy.