- Posts by Helaine I. FingoldMember of the Firm
When clients need help understanding the federal and state regulation of health insurance, and identifying and addressing related barriers and opportunities, they turn to attorney Helaine Fingold.
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On August 24, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas issued an opinion and order in Texas Medical Association, et al. v. United States Department of Health and Human Services(“HHS”)(“TMA III”). TMA III challenged certain portions of the July 2021 No Surprises Act (“NSA”) interim final rules proposed by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury, along with the Office of Personnel Management (the “Departments”). In a decision that significantly levels the field for providers, the District Court ruled in part ...
On August 3, 2023, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”), the Department of Labor, and the Department of Treasury (collectively, the “Departments”) temporarily suspended the federal Independent Dispute Resolution (“IDR”) process immediately following the issuance of a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (the “Court”) that vacated certain regulations and guidance the Departments issued to implement the No Surprises Act (“NSA”).
The Court’s ruling in Texas Medical Association, et al. v. HHS (“TMA IV”)—which addressed claim “batching” and the $350 administrative fee required to initiate the IDR process—represents the Department’s third significant loss in legal challenges against the Departments’ implementation of the NSA’s IDR process that providers, facilities, air ambulance providers, and plans may use to determine the correct payment amounts for certain out-of-network services. On August 11, 2023, the Departments issued a “Frequently Asked Questions” guidance document to detail their intended approach to address the administrative fee. The Departments plan to issue additional updates on the NSA IDR process after further analysis of the TMA IV decision.
On April 14, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new guidance on the Independent Dispute Resolution (IDR) process, created under the No Surprises Act (NSA) to provide a mechanism for payers and providers to resolve disputes as to appropriate payment amounts for certain out-of-network claims. In addition, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury launched two online portals– one to host the IDR process for providers and payers and one to host the patient-provider dispute resolution process for self-pay and uninsured patients.
This new guidance replaces earlier instruction from the agency on how the IDR process would operate and what the independent arbitrator was required to consider. The prior guidance was withdrawn after a successful legal challenge to the interim final rule implementing the No Surprises Act provisions on the IDR process, specifically with respect to the weight to be given to the Qualifying Payment Amount (QPA). The QPA is essentially the payer’s median contracted rate for similar services. The QPA is used to calculate patient cost sharing and must be considered by the independent arbitrator in resolving a payment dispute between a payer and an out-of-network provider. Initially, regulators directed arbitrators to use the QPA as a baseline, and when choosing between the parties’ proposed payment offers to choose the amount closest to the QPA unless one of the parties submitted credible information demonstrating that the appropriate payment amount was materially different from QPA.
In a previous post, we discussed the appropriate use of the Provider Relief Funds authorized and appropriated by Congress under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (“Relief Fund”) for healthcare providers and facilities. Within that post, we specifically discussed the limitation imposed on use of the Relief Funds for payment of salaries, a topic of great interest to many recipients. Under the Terms and Conditions, recipients are prohibited from using the funds for salaries in excess of the Senior Executive Service Executive Level II amount – an annual salary of $197,300 – or $16,441 a month. We noted that, although the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) had not spoken to this requirement with respect to the Provider Relief Funds, HHS permits other HHS grant Recipients to pay individuals’ salaries in excess of the $197,300 limit with non-federal funds. Also, HHS’ federal contract regulations similarly limit use of federal contract funds for salary costs to the Executive Level II amount, but allow for amounts in excess of that limit to be paid with non-federal funds.
To address the COVID-19 public health emergency fiscal burdens, Congress authorized and appropriated the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, 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.
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).
The CARES Act, 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, 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. 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:
- 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
- The Terms and Conditions listed provisions are not exhaustive and Recipients must also comply “with any other relevant applicable statutes and regulations”.
Among the many concerns arising from rampant spread of COVID-19, are provider concerns regarding potential liability for care provided during the pandemic due to limited medical resources. Providers and policy makers have discussed such concerns particularly given the currently limited number of available ventilators and qualified technicians as compared to the numbers of patients who may need access to such equipment. Congress and states have provided varying levels of liability protection, though such protections are themselves limited.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), Congress provided liability protection to volunteer health care professionals providing health care services during the current public health emergency.  Specifically, the CARES Act exempts volunteer health care professionals from liability under federal or state law for any harm caused by an act or omission, unless the harm was caused by willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, conscious flagrant indifference, or under the influence of alcohol or intoxicating drugs, in providing health care services during the public health emergency with respect to the coronavirus. This provision preempts state or local laws that provide such volunteers with lesser protection from liability.
Notably, Congress chose not to extend liability protection to non-volunteer health care professionals, affording no wide-spread federal protection to those employed or contracted professionals treating patients during the emergency. Certain states, however, have extended liability protection to employed or contracted health care professionals through state orders. For example, Governor Cuomo of New York, through executive order, waived certain state laws to provide immunity from civil liability to certain health care professionals for any injury or death alleged to have been sustained directly as a result of an act or omission by such professional in providing medical services during the pandemic, unless such injury or death was caused by the professional’s gross negligence.
Numerous media reports concern the shortage of medical resources, personal protective equipment, and qualified professionals during the growing COVID-19 medical emergency. As a result, providers may ultimately have to make choices regarding resource allocation among hospitalized patients suffering from COVID-19. Disability rights and other advocacy groups have expressed concern about resource allocation from the point of view of how individuals with pre-existing disabilities and other individuals may have been treated in the past by the medical system. While bioethicists may work to address the ethical issues involved with treating patients under conditions of resource scarcity, providers rightfully may worry about potential legal liability in distributing scarce resources among those in need. While both the Trump Administration and Congress have acted to allay some of these worries, concerns remain for both individual practitioners and the facilities with which they work.
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.
While the world continues to respond to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Congress recently passed legislation that provides for more than $8 billion in emergency funding to combat COVID-19. Part of this supplemental funding package, signed into law on March 6, 2020, includes the Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020 (the “Act”), which authorizes the Administration to loosen restrictions on telehealth in order to expand access to COVID-19 related telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries—many of whom are especially vulnerable to this virus and in the event of future emergencies. On March 17, 2020, the Administration announced the implementation of this waiver with a retroactive effective date of March 6, 2020.
Based on findings of the Payment Accuracy Report recently issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), six Democratic United States Senators questioned the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) oversight and enforcement of Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. In a letter dated September 13, 2019, the Senators highlighted their belief that MA plans have been overbilling the federal government for years, specifically in excess of $30 billion dollars over the last three years.
The Senators requested that CMS provide a response on how the Agency intends to ...
Federal lawmakers are debating legislation to address surprise medical bills that, if passed in its current form, would significantly impact how hospitals, physicians and insurers negotiate payment for the provision of certain out-of-network services. A bipartisan coalition led by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, and Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) aims to present to the President for signature a bill to curb surprise billing practices by the end of the year.
Instances of surprise medical ...
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) has published a final rule that will expand access to telehealth services for Medicare Advantage (“MA”) plan enrollees. CMS Administrator Seema Verma characterized the agency’s latest policymaking efforts as “a historic step in bringing innovative technology to Medicare beneficiaries” and a way for the agency to provide “greater flexibility to Medicare Advantage plans, [so] beneficiaries can receive more benefits, at lower costs and better quality.”
Traditionally, MA plans have been limited to ...
On March 15, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released proposed changes to its methodology for calculating Civil Money Penalties (CMPs) for Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D Prescription Drug Plan (MA and Part D) sponsors. The proposed changes would impact both the calculation methodology for 2019 as well as the CMP amounts for 2019 and beyond in an effort to increase plan accountability. CMS is accepting comments on these proposed changes until April 15, 2019 at 11:59 PM ET.
Though CMS has exercised its statutory and regulatory authority to impose CMPs on MA ...
On February 20th the Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services (together the “tri-agencies”) released a proposed rule which would alter how long short-term, limited-duration insurance (“STLDI”) plans could be offered. Under current rules the maximum duration that a STLDI plan can be offered is less than 3 months, if the proposed rule is enacted that period would be extended to less than 12 months. The tri-agencies are accepting comments on the proposed rule until April 23rd.
What are short-term, limited-duration health ...
On February 9, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (“BBA”). Among the most notable changes that will occur with the enactment of the BBA is the inclusion of certain provisions taken from the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (“CHRONIC”) Care Act of 2017 bill (S.870) which the Senate passed in September 2017. Among other things, the CHRONIC Care provisions will have the effect of redefining new criteria for special-needs plans (“SNPs”), in particular the special-needs Medicare Advantage ...
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 ...
In May 2016, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) published a final rule implementing Section 1557 of the ACA. Section 1557 prohibits discrimination in the health programs and activities of “Covered Entities” on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. Section 1557 also imposes detailed and specific notice and disclosure requirements on Covered Entities, including, among other things, the requirement to provide information about the use of auxiliary aids and services, the adoption of grievance procedures, and access for ...
In its recent decision in U.S. House of Representatives v. Burwell, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Obama administration's payment of cost-sharing subsidies for enrollees in plans offered through the Affordable Care Act's Exchanges is unauthorized for lack of Congressional appropriation. The decision would affect future cost-sharing subsidies, though the court immediately stayed the decision pending its outcome on appeal.
In its decision, the court found in favor of the members of the House of Representatives, based upon its ...
2016 is poised to be a major year in network adequacy developments across public and private insurance markets. Changes are ahead in the Medicare and Medicaid managed care programs, the Exchange markets and the state-regulated group and individual markets, including state-run Exchanges. The developing standards and enforcement will vary significantly across these markets.
Through 2014 and 2015, major news stories discussed concerns over the growing use of narrow provider networks by issuers on the Affordable Care Act's insurance exchanges ("Exchanges"). Others reported on ...
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ("CMS") expects Qualified Health Plan ("QHP") Issuers to be more familiar with Marketplace requirements and better reflect those standards in Issuers' written policies and procedures, officials stated at the recent 2015 QHP Certification Conference held at CMS Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
Twenty-three Issuers across fifteen Federally-facilitated Marketplace ("FFM") States were audited for compliance with Federal QHP requirements during 2014. The audits focused largely on QHP's policies and procedures relating to ...
Providers, take note: the Chronic Care Management (CCM) CPT Code 99490 is now payable by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Effective January 1, 2015, the Medicare program began making payments under the Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) for certain non-face-to-face management and care coordination services provided to beneficiaries covered under the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program. CCM services include, but are not limited to, development and maintenance of a plan of care, communication with other treating health care professionals, and ...
Stakeholders received insight on the Obama administration's expected approach to the certification and oversight of qualified health plans ("QHPs") late Friday, December 19, 2014, with the release by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services ("CMS") of its Draft 2016 Letter to Issuers in the Federally-facilitated Marketplaces ("Draft Letter"). This annual release comes more than a month earlier than the release of the 2015 version of this document.
While the Draft Letter largely mirrors the provisions of its 2015 predecessor, or restates earlier proposals, CMS does ...
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