As consumerism in healthcare increases, companies and the individuals they serve are increasingly sharing data with third-party application developers that provide innovative ways to manage health and wellness, among numerous other products that leverage individuals’ identifiable health data.  As the third-party application space continues to expand and data sharing becomes more prevalent, it is critical that such data sharing is done in a responsible manner and in accordance with applicable privacy and security standards. Yet, complying with applicable standards requires striking the right balance between rules promoting interoperability vis-à-vis prohibiting information blocking vs. ensuring patient privacy is protected. This is especially difficult when data is sent to third party applications that remain largely unregulated from a privacy and security perspective.  Navigating this policy ‘tug of war’ will be critical for organizations to comply with the rules, but also maintain consumer confidence.
Continue Reading Be Aware Before You Share: Vetting Third Party Apps Prior to Data Transfer

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?

While providers struggle to provide health care to their patients amid the coronavirus contagion concerns, recent regulatory and reimbursement changes will help ease the path to the provision of healthcare via telehealth.

On March 6, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law an $8.3 billion emergency coronavirus disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) response funding package. In addition to providing funding for the development of treatments and public health funding for prevention, preparedness, and response, the bill authorizes the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar (referred to herein as the “Secretary”), to waive Medicare restrictions on the provision of services via telehealth during this public health emergency.

Greater utilization of telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak will reduce providers’ and patients’ exposure to the virus in health care facilities. Telehealth is especially useful for mild cases of illness that can be managed at the patient’s home, thereby decreasing the volume of individuals seeking care in facilities. To further facilitate the increased utilization of telehealth, the Centers for Disease Control’s interim guidance for healthcare facilities notes that healthcare providers can communicate with patients by telephone if formal telehealth systems are not available. This allows providers to have greater flexibility when telehealth technology providers lack the bandwidth to accommodate this increase in telehealth utilization or are otherwise unavailable.


Continue Reading Telehealth Flexibility: Key Regulatory Changes That Providers Should Know

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”),[1] 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.

Continue Reading Congress’s COVID-19 Funding Legislation Expands Access to Telehealth Services for Medicare Beneficiaries

Through a January 9, 2020, press release, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) reported more than $3 billion in total recoveries from settlements and judgments from fraud-related civil matters brought under the False Claims Act (“FCA”) for fiscal year (“FY”) 2019. An increase over the $2.9 billion recovered in FY 2018, FY 2019 reflected the ninth highest amount of recoveries in the past 30 years. The accompanying statistics released by DOJ reflect several themes related to FCA enforcement concerning the health care and life sciences industry.

The Health Care and Life Sciences Industry Accounted for Approximately 87 Percent of FY 2019 Recoveries

Consistent with previous years, fraud actions involving the health care and life sciences industries continue to drive DOJ’s FCA recoveries. Health care-related fraud recoveries alone have now exceeded $2 billion for 10 consecutive years. In FY 2019, health care-related matters generated approximately $2.6 billion in recoveries, or 85 percent of recoveries from all sectors combined, which does not include recoveries from state-based Medicaid actions with which DOJ may have assisted. The $71 million increase in recoveries from health care-related matters between FY 2018 and FY 2019 marks the third consecutive year of increasing health care-related recoveries. Notably, recoveries from health care-related cases brought directly by DOJ increased from $568 million to $695 million between FY 2018 and FY 2019, the second highest amount recovered in 30 years.


Continue Reading DOJ False Claims Act Recoveries FY 2019: Total Collections Rise – Almost 90 Percent Relate to Health Care

Based on their extensive experience advising health care industry clients, Epstein Becker Green attorneys and strategic advisors from EBG Advisors are predicting the “hot” health care sectors for investment, growth, and consolidation in 2020.  These predictions for 2020 are largely based on the increasing confluence of the following three key “drivers” of health industry transformation that is substantially underway:

  1. The ongoing national imperative of reducing the cost of health care, via disease prevention and detection, and cost-effective, quality treatment, including more efficient care in ambulatory and retail settings;
  2. Extraordinary advances in technologies which enhance disease prevention, detection and cost-effective treatment (e.g., artificial intelligence (AI)-driven diagnosis and treatment, virtual care, electronic medical record (EMR) systems, medical devices, gene therapy, and precision medicine); and
  3. The aging baby-boomer population, with tens of millions of Americans entering into their 70s, 80s, and above.


Continue Reading 7 Hot Health Care Industry Sectors for Investment, Growth & Consolidation in 2020

Today, a final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) establishing new enforcement initiatives aimed at removing and excluding previously sanctioned entities from Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) goes into effect.[1] Published September 10 with a comment period that also closed today, the new rule expands CMS’s “program integrity enhancement” capabilities by introducing new revocation and denial authorities and increasing reapplication and enrollment bars as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to reduce spending. While CMS suggests that only “bad actors” will face additional burdens from the regulation, the new policies will have significant impacts on all providers and suppliers participating in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP.[2]

AN OVERVIEW OF THE NEW RULE

The New “Affiliations” Revocation Authority

The new “affiliations” enforcement framework—the regulation’s most significant expansion of CMS’s revocation authority—permits CMS to revoke or deny a provider’s or supplier’s enrollment in Medicare if CMS determines an “affiliation” with a problematic entity presents undue risk of fraud, waste, or abuse. Generally to bill Medicare, providers and suppliers not only must submit an enrollment application to CMS for initial enrollment, but also must recertify enrollment, reactivate enrollment, change ownership, and to change certain information.[3] In the rule’s current form, providers or suppliers submitting an enrollment application or recertification to CMS (“applicants”) will be required to submit affiliation disclosures upon CMS’s request if the agency determines the entity likely has an affiliation with a problematic entity as described below.[4] CMS will base its request on a review of various data, including Medicare Provider Enrollment, Chain, and Ownership System data and other CMS and external databases that might indicate problematic behavior, such as patterns of improper billing.[5] Upon CMS’s request, applicants identified as having at least one affiliation with a problematic entity would be required to report any current or previous direct or indirect “affiliations” to CMS.[6]


Continue Reading New Program Integrity Rule Expanding Medicare Revocation and Denial Authorities Takes Effect Today

On October 22, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) to obtain input on how CMS can utilize Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) and other new technologies to improve its operations.  CMS’ objectives to leverage AI chiefly include identifying and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse.  The RFI specifically states

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued their long-awaited proposed rules in connection with the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care today.  Transforming our healthcare system to one that pays for value is one of the Department’s top four priorities, and