On March 17, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights’ (“OCR”) announced that—for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency—it would exercise enforcement discretion and waive any potential penalties for HIPAA violations relating to health care providers’ use of “everyday communications technologies” in the provision of services via telehealth (the “HIPAA Waiver”). This move has resulted in a drastic increase in the number of telehealth encounters. The HIPAA Waiver has enabled many providers to immediately leverage these technologies to render services via telehealth for the first time, without the need to expend significant resources to quickly ramp up a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform. A summary of the HIPAA Waiver can be found in a recent blog post. While the HIPAA Waiver applies only temporarily, it is likely that the increased reliance on telehealth evidenced over the past three months is here to stay.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the regulatory landscape of telehealth was the topic of a June 17, 2020 hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.  As Chairman Lamar Alexander acknowledged during his opening statement, the health care sector and government “have been forced to cram 10 years’ worth of telehealth experience into just the past three months.” Indeed, this “cramming” has resulted in thirty-one temporary changes to telehealth policy at the federal level. Of these temporary changes, Chairman Alexander included the OCR enforcement discretion / HIPAA waiver as one of the three changes he considers most important. However, of the three changes the Chairman views as most important, he declined to include the enforcement discretion in the temporary changes he believes should be made permanent, and instead called upon his colleagues to consider whether to extend the HIPAA waiver.[1]


Continue Reading Every HIPAA Waiver Has Its Thorn

The FDA has issued the Temporary Policy on Prescription Drug Marketing Act Requirements for Distribution of Drug Samples During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.  The Prescription Drug Marketing Act of 1987 (PDMA) describes manufacturers’ drug sample storage, handling, and recordkeeping obligations as well as the written request and receipt requirements for prescribers.

Many manufacturers utilize their field sales representatives to deliver drug samples directly to, and collect written receipts from, prescribers at prescriber offices during sales calls. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted field sales representatives’ ability to have face to face visits with prescribers, preventing them from delivering samples and collecting required receipts.  In addition, as a result of the crisis, many prescribers are providing telehealth services from their homes, impacting prescribers’ ability to receive, store and distribute samples at their offices.
Continue Reading FDA PDMA Guidance in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

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

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

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

We hope that everyone is staying safe during the COVID-19 crisis. State health departments are, of course, doing what they can to facilitate management of transmission of COVID-19 by healthcare providers. Some recent actions by the New York Department of Health (“DOH”) to allow or promote telephonic and telehealth services include:

Telephonic Evaluation – Beginning

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