- Posts by Anthony ArgiropoulosMember of the Firm
Anthony Argiropoulos is the litigation attorney health care providers, retailers, and commercial enterprises want in their corner when big, complex problems threaten their operations. In contentious disputes involving ...
On September 30, 2021, the federal Departments of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services issued “Requirements Related to Surprise Billing; Part II,” the second in a series of interim final regulations (the “Second NSA Rules”) implementing the No Surprises Act (“NSA”). This new federal law became effective for services on or after January 1, 2022.
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).
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.
Imagine these scenarios:
- Your company cannot perform a contract because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A vendor informs you that she cannot provide your company with necessary goods because of supply chain issues caused by a governmental emergency declaration.
- A subcontractor cannot perform because its employees are self-quarantining.
These are not hypotheticals. Scenarios like these are playing out around the country. The real-world impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is colliding with contractual requirements, and there is new attention to the legal doctrines of “impossibility,” “frustration of purpose,” “impracticability, and “force majeure.”
What do they mean? In a nutshell, traditional contract law says that an unforeseeable event occurring after the contract was formed can excuse contract performance, and determining whether an event was unforeseeable will depend heavily on the specific facts and the language of the contract.
Across the nation, authorities are scrambling to meet the new challenges posed by COVID-19. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has recommended that individuals remain six feet apart in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On March 13, 2020, the White House proclaimed a national emergency and many State governments have ordered non-essential businesses to close, and residents to self-distance. However, these emergency measures conflict with the rules for personal service of process established by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4.
Personal service of process is among the oldest and commonest means by which a court can obtain personal jurisdiction over a defendant. F.R.C.P. 4(e) provides that personal service of process can be accomplished by handing the process papers to the defendant personally or leaving the papers with a responsible person at the defendant’s dwelling.
In most cases, personal service involves the physical act of handing papers from one person to another. The very act of accomplishing personal service therefore violates the CDC’s recommendation that individuals remain six feet apart. However, it can also run contrary to more stringent restrictions imposed by State governments.
As the coronavirus spreads throughout the country, hospitals and other health care providers are finding themselves inundated with patients. Those providers who are in-network with payors have and will likely continue to experience difficulty in complying with certain provisions of their contracts. For instance, as payors are also experiencing an unexpected influx of telephone traffic, the wait time for various approvals, including, but not limited to, pre-authorizations are being delayed.
Providers are often contractually obligated to obtain pre-authorizations for certain procedures and services prior to rendering the care. Due to the increased telephone traffic and increased wait times on the payor end, these providers are now faced with a dilemma. A process that as of two weeks ago only took a matter of ten to fifteen minutes now can take up to an hour or more. This creates a serious dilemma for those providers who need to render care to their patients and comply with their contractual obligations to payors.
The Senate has spoken to this issue via the Families First Act which prohibits cost sharing and imposing prior authorizations for COVID-19 related testing under Medicare, CHIP, and individual and small/large self-funded group plans. See Division F-Health Provisions, § 6001, Coverage of Testing for COVID-19. While some payors have recognized and acknowledged the difficulties posed by COVID-19 and have made exceptions to the standard requirements, those exceptions have been limited. For example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has indicated that its network of 36 BCBS companies will waive prior authorizations for diagnostic tests and covered services that are medically necessary for members diagnosed with COVID-19. Similarly, Wellmark and Anthem, Inc., have waived prior authorizations for covered services related to COVID-19. While these limited pre-authorization waivers are a start, they do not resolve the dilemma faced by those providers treating patients who are not suffering from COVID-19.
Our colleagues Anthony Argiropoulos and Sheila A. Woolson have a post on the Workforce Bulletin blog that will be of interest to our readers in the health care and life sciences industry: “Coronavirus Emergency Declarations Trigger Anti-Price Gouging Laws.”
Following is an excerpt:
The particulars of the laws vary with each state. Some states set a percentage above which the merchant cannot increase the price. Others simply state the price increase cannot be “unconscionable.” Some laws apply to any party in the distribution chain, whereas others make allowances for ...
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