Government Releases Proposed Rules on Physician Self-Referral Law (Stark Law), Anti-Kickback Statute and CMP Law; Significant Regulatory Changes Intended to Encourage Care Coordination and Value-Based Care

On October 9, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its long-awaited proposals (the Proposed Rules) to update regulatory exceptions and safe harbors, for the federal Physician Self-Referral Law (also known as the Stark Law), the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), and the beneficiary inducement Civil Monetary Penalties Law (CMP). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule to update exceptions to the Physician Self-Referral Law (the PSR Rule), and the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a proposed rule to update the AKS safe harbors and expand exceptions to the CMP’s beneficiary inducements prohibition (the AKS Rule). The Proposed Rules are intended to reduce perceived regulatory barriers to beneficial health care arrangements, and to facilitate the implementation of new approaches to health care service delivery and coordination, including value-based care models. Continue Reading

CMS Passes Final Rule Reducing Regulations Burdensome on Health Care Providers

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is moving forward with its Patients over Paperwork initiative, which was created in accordance with President Trump’s Executive Order directing federal agencies to reduce burdensome regulations in order to improve the patient and provider experience, and the health care system as a whole. On September 26, 2019, CMS passed the Omnibus Burden Reduction (Conditions of Participation) Final Rule (Final Rule), with the goal of removing CMS regulations that have become extraneous or burdensome on health care providers, allowing providers to increase and improve focus on patients. CMS estimates savings resulting from the Final Rule to be 4.4 million hours of time, and $800 million annually. The Final Rule was published on September 30, 2019, and goes into effect sixty days thereafter. Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs), however, have six months to implement antibiotic stewardship programs and CAHs have eighteen months to implement Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement (QAPI) programs. Continue Reading

New Connecticut Legislation Affecting Healthcare Providers and Entities Effective October 1, 2019

Multiple public acts from Connecticut’s 2019 legislative session go into effect on October 1, 2019. Below is a list of public health legislation effective October 1, with links to our previous posts summarizing the acts:

  • Public Act No. 19-89 “An Act Concerning Nursing Home Staffing Levels” (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-98 “An Act Concerning The Scope Of Practice Of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses” (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-113 “An Act Concerning the Use of Automatic External Defibrillators” (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-117, implementing the state budget, includes a newborn screening provision effective October 1  (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-164 “An Act Concerning Social Workers,” (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-176 “An Act Concerning Newborn Screening for Spinal Muscular Atrophy.” (previous post available here).
  • Public Act No. 19-191 “An Act Addressing Opioid Use” (previous post available here).

DOJ Reaches $21.36 Million Agreement with Compounding Pharmacy, Two of its Executives, and Managing Private Equity Firm to Resolve FCA Allegations

On September 18, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $21.36 million settlement with compounding pharmacy Patient Care America (PCA), as well as PCA’s Chief Executive, PCA’s former Vice President of Operations, and a private equity firm (PE Firm) that managed PCA on behalf of investors. The settlement resolves a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit alleging involvement in a kickback scheme designed to generate unnecessary referrals for prescription pain creams, scar creams, and vitamins reimbursed by TRICARE, the federal health care program for military members and their families. No determination of liability was made as part of the settlement. See our prior analysis of DOJ’s intervention in this case here. Continue Reading

Government Continues to Closely Scrutinize Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices

On September 4, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $15.4 million settlement with pharmaceutical company Mallinckrodt ARD LLC (Mallinckrodt) to resolve alleged violations of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) in two whistleblower suits filed under the False Claims Act (FCA). The settlement addresses allegations of AKS violations between 2009-2013 by sales representatives of a company later acquired by Mallinckrodt via the “wining and dining” of physicians to induce Medicare prescriptions of that company’s drug. Interestingly, the settlements do not cover related allegations within those FCA suits that Mallinckrodt improperly used a patient assistance foundation to “pay illegal kickbacks in the form of copay subsidies” for the same drug. Continue Reading

Eleventh Circuit Endorses Objective Falsehood Standard for False Claims Cases Concerning Physician Judgment of Hospice Eligibility

“A mere difference of opinion between physicians, without more, is not enough to show falsity.”

In a 3-0 decision issued September 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a three-year-old district court ruling in United States v. AseraCare, Inc. that a Medicare claim for hospice services cannot be deemed false under the False Claims Act (FCA) based on a difference in clinical judgment. This decision – apparently the first circuit-level determination of the “standard for falsity [under the FCA] in the context of the Medicare hospice benefit” – will affect all hospice providers, as the Department of Justice (DOJ) and whistleblowers will not be able to rely on disagreements between physician opinions as the basis for establishing falsity under the FCA. Instead, the Eleventh Circuit instructs that a claim for hospice reimbursement “cannot be “false” – and thus cannot trigger FCA liability – if the underlying clinical judgment does not reflect an objective falsehood.” The Eleventh Circuit’s decision emphasizes that reasonable differences of opinion between physician reviewers of medical documentation are not sufficient to suggest that the judgments concerning a particular patient’s eligibility for Medicare’s hospice benefit, or any claims submitted based on such judgments, are false for purposes of the FCA. Continue Reading

HHS Issues Favorable Advisory Opinion Permitting Community Health Center to Purchase Real Estate from an Excluded Individual

On September 6, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued OIG Advisory Opinion No. 19-05 (Advisory Opinion) permitting a community health center (Requestor) to purchase real estate from a limited liability company (LLC) owned and managed by an individual excluded from participation in federal health care programs (Proposed Arrangement). The OIG indicated the Proposed Arrangement would not result in the imposition of sanctions under the civil monetary penalties law because no claims for reimbursement from federal programs would be sought by the Requestor, nor would they use federal grant funds to finance the purchase. Continue Reading

HHS Issues Favorable Advisory Opinion for Online Health Care Directory Charging Per-Click Fees

On September 5, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued OIG Advisory Opinion 19-04 (Advisory Opinion). The Requestor asked OIG if providing an online health care provider directory (Directory) to federal health care program beneficiaries (beneficiaries) would violate the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) or constitute a prohibited Beneficiary Inducement. The online directory would allow beneficiaries to search and book medical appointments, and the Requestor would charge health care professionals a per-click or per-booking fee to be listed in the directory. The directory would also allow sponsored advertisements for which health care professionals would pay a per-impression or per-click fee for such advertisements. The OIG indicated that the arrangement would not violate the Beneficiary Inducement prohibitions, and although it may generate remuneration prohibited by the AKS, OIG would not impose sanctions on the Requestor because the risk for federal health care program fraud or abuse is low. Continue Reading

For First Time Ever, Government Brings HIPAA Enforcement Action Alleging Violations of Right to Access Medical Records

On September 9, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that it had settled its first ever HIPAA enforcement action arising from alleged violations of the individual right to access health information under HIPAA. OCR entered into a settlement with Bayfront Health St. Petersburg (Bayfront) in response to allegations that it failed to provide a mother with timely access to medical records concerning her unborn child. Under the terms of a resolution agreement, Bayfront agreed to pay $85,000, and enter into a one-year corrective action plan (CAP).

OCR initiated an investigation of Bayfront in response to a 2018 patient complaint. According to OCR’s investigation, the patient initially submitted a written request for fetal heart monitor records in October, 2017, and subsequently submitted follow-up requests through counsel in January and February o2018. Bayfront allegedly did not provide a complete set of records to the patient’s counsel until August 2018, and the patient reportedly did not receive the records directly until February 2019. OCR’s investigation thus “indicated that Bayfront failed to provide access” to PHI about the patient in a designated record set, in accordance with 45 C.F.R. § 164.524. Bayfront did not admit liability as part of the resolution agreement.

Under the terms of the CAP, Bayfront is obligated to update its written access policies to comply with HIPAA, and provide HHS access to those policies within 60 days for review and approval. The policies must include provisions addressing HIPAA’s right of access, as well as protocols for training of workforce members and sanctions for non-compliant workforce members. Bayfront will also be obligated to submit an implementation report within 120 days after receiving HHS approval of the policies and procedures, an annual report that includes training materials on the new HIPAA policies and procedures, and attestations of compliance with the CAP’s requirements.

This enforcement action is part of OCR’s new “Right of Access Initiative” that is intended to “vigorously” ensure that patients are able to “receive copies of their medical records promptly and without being overcharged.” Health care providers and other entities subject to HIPAA would therefore be well-advised to review their policies and procedures for providing access to medical records, because potential violations of HIPAA’s right to access are under heightened government scrutiny at this time.

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Spurred by Opioid Crisis, Government Proposes Additional Changes to Substance Use Disorder Confidentiality Regulations to Facilitate Provision of Coordinated Care

On August 26, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to “better align” its substance use disorder (SUD) confidentiality regulations at 42 C.F.R. Part 2 (Part 2) with the needs of providers and patients, and to “facilitate the provision of well-coordinated care” for individuals with SUD. Continue Reading