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CMS grants Massachusetts Section 1135 Waiver, DPH issues Guidance regarding Determination of Need and Nurse Staffing Requirements, and MassHealth Issues Provider and Pharmacy Guidance

In this article, we highlight additional updates issued by state and federal government authorities for the health care community in Massachusetts related to COVID-19. This post addresses the Section 1135 waivers granted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to MassHealth and CHIP, Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) orders and guidance regarding Determination of Need and nurse staffing ratios, and MassHealth guidance for providers and pharmacies.…

OCR Issues Additional Guidance on HIPAA for Providers and First Responders on COVID-19 Front Lines

On March 24, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued new HIPAA guidance to help providers and first responders in efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. …

DOJ and FTC Issue Joint Statement on Antitrust Enforcement and the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 24, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a joint statement on COVID-19-related antitrust enforcement highlighting ways “firms, including competitors, can engage in procompetitive collaboration that does not violate the antitrust laws” to protect public health and safety. The DOJ and FTC emphasized their commitment to facilitating antitrust compliance for businesses that are responding to the national emergency. In furtherance of this position, the agencies gave examples of collaborative activities designed to improve health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic that are unlikely …

OIG Issues FAQs on its Policy for Waiver of Patient Cost Sharing Obligations for Telehealth During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

On March 25, 2020, the Office of Inspector General, Health and Human Services (OIG) issued two frequently asked questions (FAQs), clarifying its March 17th Policy Statement Regarding Physicians and Other Practitioners That Reduce or Waive Amounts Owed by Federal Health Care Program Beneficiaries for Telehealth Services During the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak (Policy Statement).…

OHS Streamlines Application Process for CON Waivers to Respond to COVID-19

On March 20, the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy (OHS) issued new guidance (Guidance) on the process for requesting a certificate of need (CON) waiver for projects related to the COVID-19 response. See our analysis of the initial OHS guidance on CON waivers here.…

Connecticut Issues Order Temporarily Recognizing Reciprocal Health Care Practitioner Licenses

In alignment with both New York and Massachusetts, earlier today Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Public Health issued an order (Order) permitting physicians, nurses, respiratory care practitioners, emergency medical services personnel and other health care practitioners who are licensed in another state to provide temporary assistance in Connecticut for a period of 60 days. The Order is subject to the following conditions:

  • No practitioner may provide services beyond the scope of practice permitted under Connecticut law relating to the applicable profession;
  • Each practitioner must maintain malpractice and other insurance

COVID-19: HHS Issues FAQs on HIPAA and Telehealth to Help Providers Maintain Access to Care During the Pandemic

On March 20, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued additional guidance in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on HIPAA and telehealth services to help providers furnish care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FAQs follow and provide further information on the Notification of Enforcement Discretion issued by HHS on March 17 (Notification), in which HHS indicated that it would not penalize providers for using popular video chat applications, such as FaceTime and Skype, in good faith to provide telehealth services amid the COVID-19 …

Federal Government Significantly Expands Telehealth Reimbursement During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

On March 17, the Trump Administration announced expanded reimbursement for clinicians providing telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published an announcement, a fact sheet and Frequently Asked Questions.  To further facilitate telehealth services, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notification describing certain technologies that would be permitted to be used for telehealth without being subject to penalties under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations (HIPAA). In addition, the Office of Inspector …

COVID-19: Connecticut Issues Expedited CON Review Guidelines and Provider Guidance to Help Response Efforts

On March 16, Connecticut agencies released two important guidance documents for state health care providers and organizations confronting the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. The Connecticut Office of Health Strategy (OHS) – the entity responsible for overseeing Certificate of Need reviews and approvals – issued new CON Guidance that allows OHS to temporarily waive CON review requirements of transactions intended to promote the State’s response and management of COVID-19. The Guidance also mandates that all public hearings related to pending CON projects will be conducted remotely until further notice, with further guidance to

HHS Issues Section 1135 Waiver, and CMS Issues Blanket Waivers of Health Care Laws, in Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) Emergency

Following the President’s proclamation on March 13 that the COVID-19 outbreak constitutes a national emergency, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar issued a Waiver or Modification of Requirements Under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act (full text available here) that waives or modifies certain health care laws and regulations in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This “1135 Waiver” applies nationwide and took effect on March 15 at 6:00 p.m., but its applicability is retroactive to March 1, 2020.  The 1135 Waiver applies …

FTC and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Challenge Proposed Hospital Merger

On February 27, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced an action to block a proposed transaction between Thomas Jefferson University d/b/a Jefferson Health (Jefferson) and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (Einstein). Jefferson and Einstein entered into a “System Integration Agreement” in late 2018 under which Jefferson would become the sole member (i.e., owner) of Einstein and oversee a 14-hospital system (11 of which would be located in Pennsylvania). According to the FTC, Jefferson and Einstein are leading providers of inpatient general acute care (GAC) hospital services and inpatient acute rehabilitation …

DOJ Announces Settlement with EHR Company to Resolve Criminal and Civil Kickback Investigations Tied to Opioid Prescribing

On January 27, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $145 million settlement with Practice Fusion Inc., an electronic health records (EHR) software company that resolves parallel criminal and civil investigations involving allegations of kickbacks, false claims, and non-compliance with federal EHR program requirements. We previously discussed a preliminary settlement in this case here, and in announcing the finalizing of that settlement the DOJ has shed more light on the allegedly improper conduct at issue. According to the DOJ, this is the first criminal action ever brought against …

DOJ Reaches Settlement with Patient Assistance Foundation Resolving Allegations of FCA Violations

On January 21, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $3 million settlement with Patient Services, Inc. (PSI) to resolve allegations of False Claims Act (FCA) violations. The DOJ alleged that PSI enabled three pharmaceutical companies to pay kickbacks to patients by funneling money to patients taking drugs manufactured by those same pharmaceutical companies. In addition to the $3 million, PSI has entered into a three-year integrity agreement with Health and Human Services’s Office of the Inspector General. The settlement involved no determination of liability.…

DOJ Announces $26.67 Million Settlement with Laboratory to Resolve FCA Allegations

On November 26, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $26.67 million settlement with a laboratory testing corporation, Boston Heart Diagnostics Corporation (Boston Heart). The settlement resolves allegations of False Claims Act (FCA) violations related to alleged payments for patient referrals in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the Physician Self-Referral Law (PSR Law) – commonly known as the Stark Law – and other improper billing.…

DOJ Announces Physician Self-Referral (Stark) Law Settlement in Excess of $46 Million with California Health System and Surgical Group

On November 15, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had reached a settlement with Sutter Health (Sutter) and Sacramento Cardiovascular Surgeons Medical Group Inc. (Sac Cardio) to resolve alleged violations of the Physician Self-Referral Law (PSR Law), commonly known as the Stark Law. Sutter is a California-based health services provider; Sac Cardio is a Sacramento-based practice group of three cardiovascular surgeons. The total settlement in excess of $46 million includes $30.5 million from Sutter to resolve allegations of an improper financial relationship specific to compensation arrangements with Sac …

CMS Issues Final Regulations for Hospital Price Transparency

On November 15, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced final regulations implementing greater price transparency requirements for hospitals. Issued on the heels of a Trump Administration Executive Order directing HHS to propose regulations on increased price transparency, the new regulations modify and finalize CMS’ earlier guidance implementing section 2718(e) of the Public Health Service Act, to further expand price transparency requirements for hospitals. (See our previous analysis of the Executive Order here.) Effective January 1, 2021, the …

DOJ Announces FCA Lawsuit Settlement with Spinal Device Manufacturer and Senior Executives for Alleged Kickbacks Paid to Surgeons

On November 7, 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it had settled a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit against Life Spine, a spinal device manufacturer, and two of Life Spine’s senior executives. The settlement totaled $5.99 million and included various admissions of responsibility to settle allegations of kickbacks paid by Life Spine that the DOJ claimed were designed to induce surgeons to utilize Life Spine devices and submit claims to federal health programs for these improperly-induced utilizations in violation of the federal anti-kickback statute (AKS) and FCA. The settlement …

CMS Proposes to Newly Define Commercially Reasonable, and Tweak Definition of Fair Market Value, in New Physician Self-Referral Law (Stark Law) Regulations

On October 17, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) formally published its proposed rule (PSR Rule) to update exceptions to the Physician Self-Referral Law (PSR Law, also known as the Stark Law). For our initial overview of the PSR Rule (and of the Office of Inspector General’s corresponding proposal to update the Anti-Kickback Statute) see here. The PSR Rule contains a number of important proposals to update the PSR Law, including putting forward a definition of the term “commercially reasonable” and revising the definition …

HHS Proposes Changes to Permit Donation of Cybersecurity Technology

On October 17, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published proposed rules to update the regulatory Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) safe-harbors and exceptions to the Physician Self-Referral (PSR) Law, known commonly as the Stark Law (AKS proposed rule available here; PSR proposed rule available here). In an earlier blog post, we described each of the proposed rules. Among the proposed changes are a new safe harbor/exception that would generally permit entities to donate certain cybersecurity technology and related services to physicians, subject to compliance with …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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