Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)

On March 13, 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation that the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) outbreak in the United States constituted a national emergency. Following this proclamation, pursuant to section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Alex Azar, invoked his authority to waive or modify certain requirements of titles of the Act as a result of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, to the extent necessary, as determined by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”), to ensure that sufficient health care items and services are available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (“CHIP”). This authority took effect on March 15, 2020, with a retroactive effective date of March 1, 2020 and will terminate at the conclusion of the public health emergency period.[1] Pursuant to this authority, HHS announced a number of nationwide blanket waivers, including a waiver related to telehealth, in order for providers to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.[2]

Separate from and in addition to the blanket waivers, the Secretary’s authority under Section 1135 also allows CMS to grant Section 1135 waivers to states that request CMS to temporarily waive compliance with certain statutes and regulations for its Medicaid programs during the time of the public health emergency. So far, many states have requested these additional flexibilities in order to focus their resources on combatting the outbreak and providing the best possible care to Medicaid enrollees in their states. CMS has been rapidly approving these Section 1135 waiver requests, but it is important to recognize that not all state requests are created equal with respect to utilizing telehealth / telemedicine services during the public health emergency. Based on a review of the publicly available state request letters, it is clear that some states have prioritized use of telehealth in order to respond to COVID-19, while other states have not, or have not yet requested similar flexibilities related to provision of telehealth services. Examples of states that have prioritized greater use of telehealth include:

  • California: The state requested flexibility for telehealth and virtual communications to make it easier for providers to care for people in their homes. Specifically, California requested flexibility to allow telehealth and virtual/telephonic communications for covered State plan benefits, such as behavioral health treatment services, and waiver of face-to-face encounter requirements for Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics, among others. The state also sought reimbursement of virtual communication and e-consults for certain providers. CMS approved this waiver request on March 23, 2020.
  • Illinois: The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services waiver request, approved on March 23, 2020 by CMS, sought flexibility of documentation requirements, including the lack of documentation of consent for a telehealth consult. Like several other states, Illinois also requested CMS to allow providers to use non-HIPAA compliant telehealth modes from readily available platforms, such as Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype, etc., to facilitate a telehealth visit or check-in at the location of the patient, including the patient’s home.


Continue Reading Some States Are Prioritizing Telehealth Through Section 1135 Waiver Requests

The ongoing pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus has upended the American health care system in many ways. One of the many effects of COVID-19 will likely be substantial disruption in value-based payment arrangements between health plans and providers. Though this is an issue that is not on the top of providers or payors minds as the health care system prepares to respond to the crisis, there are some simple steps that providers can take now to avoid issues in the future.

Any iteration of value-based payments (“VBP”) is likely to be disrupted by COVID-19; be it shared savings, shared risk, or full risk arrangements. Quality targets and reporting deadlines are likely to be missed as providers move many routine and preventative services to telehealth services or suspend them entirely for the time being, as well as turn the bulk of their clinical focus to COVID-19. Under some VBP arrangements, providers may be ineligible for any savings due to their inability to meet “quality gates” (i.e., certain quality metric thresholds that must be met before any savings payments are made) in the current climate. Cost savings targets are likely to be missed or at least distorted as providers focus on building out their capabilities to address the pandemic. How will these sudden and substantial changes affect the parties participating in value-based arrangements?

CMS has already announced that it will amend its quality reporting requirements from the fourth quarter of 2019 through the end of the second quarter of 2020.[1] The announcement covers a variety of quality reporting requirements and payment programs with the stated purpose of alleviating reporting requirements and disregarding unrepresentative data created during the emergency. CMS has also stated that it intends to prorate any losses incurred by Medicare accountable care organizations (“ACOs”) in 2020 for the duration of the public health emergency (e.g., if the public health emergency lasts for six months, the annual losses an ACO incurs in 2020 would be halved). Many – including a bipartisan group of Senators – have argued that this approach is insufficient to truly address the pandemic-related costs incurred by ACOs.[1] CMS has also stated that it will disregard all costs associated with care related to COVID-19 when performing benchmark calculations.[2] States may make similar changes for VBP arrangements in Medicaid programs. How these government steps would flow down into VBP agreements between managed care plans and providers is not clear and requires analysis of the specific agreements.


Continue Reading Value-Based Payment Arrangements During the COVID-19 Pandemic

January 28th marks Data Privacy Day which commemorates the signing of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.  This international treaty is the first of its kind to address privacy and data protection.

Strong privacy and cybersecurity safeguards are paramount to the success of companies and the