In response to the growing concerns of the capacity of the health care workforce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 24, 2020 the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, issued a letter and associated Guidance to all Governors urging them to take immediate action. While the federal government, and some
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.
On March 22, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued guidance, for immediate implementation, that aims to increase the availability of ventilators and other respiratory devices needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic. While FDA urges health care facilities to use, wherever possible, FDA-cleared standard full-featured ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients (as well as other patients requiring ventilatory support), FDA will allow a more flexible approach to modifications to these devices to help boost manufacturing capacity and supply. FDA also took the opportunity to lay out guidelines that encourage submission of Emergency Use Authorization (“EUA”) applications for devices not marketed in the United States, continuing an unprecedented Agency response to the pandemic.
Specifically, FDA will allow manufacturers of certain FDA-cleared ventilator/respiratory devices (as detailed in the table below) to make modifications to the indications, claims, functionality, or to the hardware, software, or materials of the device without making a new 510(k) submission to FDA, so long as the modification will not create undue risk in light of the public health emergency. Such changes, which would normally require a new 510(k), could include a significant change or modification in design, material, chemical composition, energy source, or manufacturing process.
On March 16, 2020, FDA finalized its guidance titled Policy for Diagnostic Tests for Coronavirus Disease-2019 during the Public Health Emergency (the “Policy”). The Policy includes information and recommendations to assist laboratories and commercial manufacturers in development of diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) during the ongoing pandemic.
During the first week of implementation,…
After U.S. Attorney General, William P. Barr and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued warnings this week regarding potential fraudulent schemes that are being perpetrated in the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on Sunday, March 22, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed its first enforcement action to shut down COVID-19-related fraud. DOJ attorneys moved in federal court in Austin, Texas for a temporary restraining order against operators of a website, coronavirustestingkit.com, alleged to have engaged in a wire fraud scheme by offering consumers access to “free” World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge, which required consumers to enter credit card information on the website. The website stated that the kits “only” required water to administer the vaccine and provided testimonials from “recent users.” The government alleged that claims made on the website are false, as the WHO is not offering free vaccine kits and there is not yet a scientifically proven vaccine, and that the intent of the website is to gain access to consumer credit card information.
On March 16, 2020, U.S. Attorney General Barr directed in a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys that “[e]very U.S. Attorney’s Office is thus hereby directed to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct” related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Attorney General Barr advised, “the pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic,” and therefore, such criminal conduct will not be tolerated.
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.
On March 17, 2020 the Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced that it would “exercise its enforcement discretion and will waive any potential penalties for HIPAA violations” for health care providers who are serving patients using “everyday communications technologies.” The OCR issued this guidance to ensure providers could make…
On March 17, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued a Temporary Policy regarding preventive controls and food supplier verification audit requirements during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This guidance explains the current intent of FDA to not enforce onsite audit requirements in certain circumstances related to the impact of COVID-19. Such onsite audit requirements can be found in three important food regulations:
- Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food (21 CFR Part 117);
- Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals (21 CFR Part 507); and
- Foreign Supplier Verification Programs for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals (21 CFR Part 1 Subpart L).
The Agency has stated that this temporary guidance will become effective immediately, without comment from the public, due to the exigent circumstances surrounding this ongoing public health threat.
On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) issued a guidance document titled, “FDA Guidance on Conduct of Clinical Trials of Medical Products during the COVID-19 Pandemic” (the “Guidance”). FDA’s stated purpose in issuing the guidance is to help sponsors to assure the safety of trial participants, maintain compliance with good clinical practice (“GCP”), and minimize risk to the integrity of trials during the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) pandemic.
The Guidance recognizes the impact COVID-19 may have on the conduct of ongoing clinical trials, including quarantines, site closures, travel limitations, interruptions to the supply chain, and other considerations should individuals involved in the studies become infected with COVID-19. FDA acknowledges that these factors may impact a sponsor’s ability to meet protocol-specified procedures, and that protocol modifications may be necessary and deviations unavoidable.