Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) proposed 2021 aggregate production quotas (APQs) for controlled substances in schedules I and II of the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”) and an Assessment of Annual Needs (“AAN”) for the List I Chemicals pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine. This marks the second year that DEA has issued APQs pursuant to Congress’s changes to the CSA via the SUPPORT Act.  After assessing the diversion rates for the five covered controlled substances, DEA reduced the quotas for four: oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl.

DEA recently increased the APQ to allow for the additional manufacture of certain controlled substances in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to provide greater access to these medications for patients on ventilator treatment.  According to DEA, that increased demand has been factored into the proposed APQs for 2021.

Comments are due by October 1, 2020.  Because DEA’s APQs determine the amount of quota DEA can allocate to individual manufacturers in 2021, adversely impacted parties should file comments soon.

Background on APQs

The CSA requires the establishment of aggregate production quotas for schedule I and II controlled substances, and an assessment of annual needs for the list I chemicals ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine.  These aggregate quotas limit the quantities of these substances to be manufactured – and with respect to the listed chemicals, imported –  in the United States in a calendar year, to provide for the estimated medical, scientific, research, and industrial needs of the United States, for lawful export requirements, and for the establishment and maintenance of reserve stocks.

Changes in Setting APQs Under The SUPPORT Act

The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities Act (“SUPPORT Act”) signed into law October 24, 2018, provided significant changes to the process for setting APQs.  First, under the CSA, aggregate production quotas are established in terms of quantities of each basic class of controlled substance, and not in terms of individual pharmaceutical dosage forms prepared from or containing such a controlled substance.  However, the SUPPORT Act provides an exception to that general rule by giving the DEA the authority to establish quotas in terms of pharmaceutical dosage forms if the agency determines that doing so will assist in avoiding the overproduction, shortages, or diversion of a controlled substance.

Additionally, the SUPPORT Act changed the way the DEA establishes APQs with respect to five “covered controlled substances”: fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, and hydromorphone.  Under the SUPPORT Act, when setting the APQ for any of the “covered controlled substances,” DEA must estimate the amount of diversion.  The SUPPORT Act requires DEA to make appropriate quota reductions “as determined by the [DEA] from the quota the [DEA] would have otherwise established had such diversion not been considered.”  Furthermore, when estimating the amount of diversion, the DEA must consider reliable “rates of overdose deaths and abuse and overall public health impact related to the covered controlled substance in the United States,” and may take into consideration other sources of information the DEA determines reliable.

Estimating Diversion  

In accordance with this mandate under the SUPPORT Act, in setting the proposed APQs for 2021 DEA requested information from various agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”), regarding overdose deaths, overprescribing, and the public health impact of covered controlled substances.  DEA also solicited information from each state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (“PDMP”), and any additional analysis of prescription data that would assist DEA in estimating diversion of covered controlled substances.

After soliciting input from these sources, DEA extracted data on drug theft and loss from its internal databases and seizure data by law enforcement nationwide.  DEA then calculated the estimated amount of diversion by multiplying the strength of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (“API”) listed for each finished dosage form by the total amount of units reported to estimate the metric weight in kilograms of the controlled substance being diverted.


Continue Reading Deadline Looms for Responding to DEA’s Proposed Aggregate Production Quotas for 2021

On Tuesday June 16th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a District Court decision that invalidated a Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) rule requiring pharmaceutical companies to include the wholesale prices of their drugs in direct to consumer TV advertising.  See Regulation to Require Drug Pricing Transparency, 84 Fed. Reg. 20732 (May 10, 2019) (the “Disclosure Rule”).  Ruling in favor of Merck & Co., Inc., Eli Lilly and Company and Amgen, Inc., the Appeals Court held that HHS lacked statutory authority to establish the Disclosure Rule.

The Court found that HHS “acted unreasonably in construing its authority to include the imposition of a sweeping disclosure requirement that is largely untethered to the actual administration of the Medicare or Medicaid programs.  Because there is no reasoned statutory basis for its far-flung reach and misaligned obligations, the disclosure rule is invalid and is hereby set aside.”
Continue Reading DTC Pricing Disclosure Rule Invalidated

Certifications, Acknowledgments,
and Reports

The CARES Act[1], 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[2], 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.[3] 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:

  1. 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
  2. The Terms and Conditions listed provisions are not exhaustive and Recipients must also comply “with any other relevant applicable statutes and regulations”.


Continue Reading HHS Relief Fund’s Terms and Conditions – Reporting and Public Disclosure of Payments

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

WHO: The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

WHAT: Issued nationwide “blanket waivers” of the federal Stark Law (Section 1877 of the Social Security Act) pursuant to his authority Section 1135 of the Social Security Act.

WHEN: Although issued on March 30, 2020, the waivers are retroactively effective as of March 1, 2020.

WHY: HHS is waiving sanctions under the Stark Law and its underlying regulations to ensure that: (1) sufficient health care items and services are available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in federal healthcare programs, and (2) health care providers that furnish such items and services in good faith, but are unable to comply fully with the Stark Law’s requirements as a result of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, may be reimbursed for such items and services and exempted from sanctions for noncompliance.

HOW: The waiver is available to protect financial relationships that satisfy two criteria: (1) the remuneration and referrals must be solely related to “COVID-19 Purposes”; and (2) the referrals and claims must be related to a defined set of financial relationships, as set forth below.


Continue Reading HHS Issues Blanket Waivers for Certain Financial Relationships Subject to the Stark Law

On March 9, 2020, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published their long-awaited final rules that seeks to promote interoperability. Market participants waited longer than usual for this rule due to the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) extending the comment period at the request of a variety of stakeholders.

The ONC’s rule (the “Final Rule”) supports interoperability by prohibiting “information blocking”.  Affected organizations (see below) will want to be considering the impact on contracts and developing compliance policies that reflect the requirements of the Final Rule. One aspect of needed compliance relates to the Final Rule’s exceptions to information blocking including a newly-added “content and manner” exception.

Generally, information blocking is defined as an action by an actor interfering with, preventing, or materially discouraging access, exchange, or use of electronic health information[1]  (“EHI”). Actors include health care providers, health IT developers, health information exchanges, or health information network. In the proposed rule, the ONC proposed seven exceptions to conduct that might otherwise be deemed information blocking. However, in the Final Rule, ONC created eight exceptions. Further, the ONC defined two categories of exceptions: (1) Exceptions that involve not fulfilling requests to access, exchange, or use EHI and (2) Exceptions that involve procedures for fulfilling requests to access, exchange, or use EHI. Each of the eight enumerated exceptions are categorized as follows:


Continue Reading ONC’s New Information Blocking Prohibition Affects Health Care Providers, Health IT Developers, Health Information Exchanges, and Health Information Networks