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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 …

Connecticut Governor Lamont Expands Access to Telehealth Services In Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 19, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont issued Executive Order No. 7G, which is intended to expand access to telehealth services for Connecticut residents amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  Notably for health care providers, the Order waives or modifies provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-906 and any associated regulations, rules and policies regarding the delivery of telehealth services as follows:

  • Allows telehealth providers enrolled in Medicaid or in-network in fully-insured commercial plans to provide covered telehealth services via audio-only telephone to established patients (i.e., those with an existing provider-patient

COVID-19: Lamont Authorizes DSS to Expand Access to Telehealth Services for Medicaid Beneficiaries in Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

As part of Executive Order No. 7F issued on March 18, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont authorized the Commissioner of the Department Social Services (DSS) to “temporarily waive any requirements” set forth in state law, regulations, rules, policies or other directives concerning telehealth as is necessary to enable the Medicaid program “to cover applicable services provided through audio-only telehealth services.”  As a result, DSS will be able to expand Medicaid coverage for telehealth services that are provided by phone, and not just audio-video technology.…

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 …

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 …

HHS Finalizes Joint Rules on Electronic Health Record Interoperability and Access

On March 9, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced final rules seeking to give patients more access to, and control of, their health data. The final rules were issued by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The ONC rule is available here and the CMS rule here. Both rules implement interoperability and patient access provisions from the 21st Century Cures Act and the Trump administration’s MyHealthEData initiative.…

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 …

OCR Comments on Recent Ciox Case Vacating Certain Omnibus Rule Regulations and Guidance Relating to Fees for Providing Patient Records

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued an Important Notice Regarding Individuals’ Right of Access to Health Records through its email list serve on January 29, 2020.  In the Notice, OCR addressed the recent memorandum Opinion issued in Ciox Health v. Azar, et al, No. 18-cv-00040 (D.D.C. January 23, 2020).

In that case, Ciox Health, LLC, a specialized medical records provider, had challenged certain provisions of the 2013 Omnibus Rule, including provisions pertaining to what can be charged for delivering records …

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 …

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 …

Allscripts Announces $145 Million Preliminary Settlement with DOJ Related to an Investigation of Practice Fusion, a Recently Acquired EHR Company

In its second quarter Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) filing, Allscripts addressed its announced agreement in principle with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to resolve investigations into certain alleged practices of Practice Fusion, an electronic health records (EHR) vendor acquired by Allscripts in February 2018 for $100 million. Allscripts indicated the agreement is still subject to further negotiation and government approval, and would likely include additional non-monetary terms, including a deferred prosecution agreement, if a finalized settlement is reached.…

CMS Announces Pilot Program for Clinicians to View Claims Data of Medicare Beneficiaries

On July 30, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced “Data at the Point of Care” (DPC), a pilot program that will provide clinicians with access to claims data. The pilot program follows on the heels of the recently proposed Interoperability and Patient Access Proposed Rule, which would require regulated health plans to make patient data available through an application programming interface (API). These actions are also part of the MyHealthEData initiative spearheaded by the White House Office of American Innovation.…

Eighth Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Blocking Physician Practice Acquisition in North Dakota

On June 13, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction granted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and North Dakota Attorney General (NDAG) blocking the proposed acquisition of Mid-Dakota Clinic, P.C. (MDC) – a multispecialty physician group in North Dakota – by Sanford Health, a large South Dakota-based health system (Sanford). This decision may foreclose continued pursuit of MDC by Sanford, and represents another success for the FTC in challenging health care consolidation (see our previous analysis of the granting of the injunction …

OIG Issues Alert to Warn of ‘Free’ Genetic Testing Scams Seeking to Steal Information

On June 3, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a fraud alert to notify consumers about genetic testing fraud schemes (the Alert). According to the OIG, fraudulent actors are using the provision of free genetic testing kits to obtain Medicare information from unwitting consumers, and then using the stolen information for purposes of fraudulent billing and/or identity theft.…

OCR Issues Fact Sheet Listing Circumstances in which Business Associates May Face Direct Liability for HIPAA Violations

In a development that may – understandably – have been overlooked by many heading into Memorial Day weekend, on May 24, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a Fact Sheet on Direct Liability of Business Associates under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The Fact Sheet provides an important reminder to covered entities, business associates, and their counselors regarding the circumstances in which OCR may – and may not – take enforcement actions directly against business associates for …

CMS Amends Regulations to Lower Drug Prices and Reduce Out-Of-Pocket Expenses in Medicare Advantage and Part D Prescription Drug Benefit Program

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a final rule, to be published on May 23, 2019, amending the Medicare Advantage program (Part C) and Prescription Drug Benefit program (Part D) regulations. According to CMS, the purpose of the rule is to lower drug prices and reduce out-of-pocket expenses in the Medicare Advantage and Part D drug programs.

The major provisions are:

  1. Protected classes. The final rule contains an exception to the requirement that Part D sponsors include all Part D drugs in these protected classes

OCR Issues Five New HIPAA FAQs on Health Information Apps

On April 18, 2019, the Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued five new FAQs addressing the applicability of HIPAA to the use of software applications (apps) by individuals to receive health information from their providers.

The new FAQs are available here under the Header “Access Right, Apps and APIs.”

In the FAQs, OCR:

  • Emphasizes that an individual’s right to access her/his protected health information (“PHI” or “ePHI”) under HIPAA generally obligates a covered entity to send PHI to a designated app, even if the

Department of Justice Announces Significant False Claims Act Settlements Tied to Electronic Health Records Arrangements

The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced two high-dollar False Claims Act (FCA) enforcement actions involving allegedly fraudulent arrangements tied to the implementation and use of electronic health record systems (EHRs). The respective settlements enable recovery by DOJ of over $100 million, and immediately precede the government’s recent proposal of new rules to promote the interoperability of EHRs. The settlements thus serve as an important reminder of the importance of adhering to federal fraud and abuse laws and regulations as hospitals and other health care providers continue to implement EHR …

OCR Issues Request for Information Regarding Modification of HIPAA To Promote Care Coordination and Transition to Value-Based Care

On December 14, 2018 the Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) published a Request for Information (RFI) soliciting public input on updates to regulations promulgated under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) with the goals of removing “regulatory obstacles” and decreasing “regulatory burdens” in furtherance of the health care industry’s transition to value-based care models.

In the RFI, OCR requests input on whether and how the HIPAA regulations (i) can be modified to remove regulatory obstacles and burdens to efficient care coordination and …

Advanced Care Hospitalists Settles with OCR for $500,000  for Alleged HIPAA Violations

The Office for Civil Rights has announced that it has settled with Lakeland, Florida based Advanced Care Hospitalists (ACH) for $500,000 for allegations of an impermissible disclosure of protected health information by one of its business associates. ACH provides contract internal medicine physicians to nursing homes and hospitals.

According to the press release, between November 2011 and June 2012, ACH engaged an individual who claimed to be a representative of Doctor’s First Choice Billings, Inc., which provides medical billing services. Although the individual used First Choice’s website and company affiliation, …

2019 Physician Fee Schedule Rule Review: CMS Recognizes “Virtual Check-Ins” and “Store and Forward” Remote Service Offerings

On November 1, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a final rule that updated payment policies and rates under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS). This rule also formalized two types of remote service offerings known as “virtual check-ins” and “store and forwards.” In an effort to increase access for Medicare beneficiaries, CMS has recognized and finalized a code to provide separate payment for communication technology “virtual check-in” service. The purpose of these services are “brief check-ins” using communication technology to evaluate whether or not an office …

2019 Physician Fee Schedule Rule Review: Use of Telehealth Expanded

Telehealth for Treatment of Substance Use Disorders

As part of the CY 2019 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an interim final rule with comment period to expand the use of telehealth for the treatment of substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health disorders. Existing law provides for reimbursement of telehealth services only if the originating site is located in a rural health professional shortage area, is not in a metropolitan statistical area or is an entity that participates in a federal …

Medicare Proposes Revised Telehealth Services and Payments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently published a Proposed Rule, primarily intended to modify certain Medicare payment policies.  The Proposed Rule contains several provisions that address the growing use of telehealth. CMS noted that it had received many suggestions regarding the expansion of access to telehealth as well as appropriate pay for the same, in response to its call for comments in the CY 2018 Medicare physician fee schedule (PFS) proposed rule.…

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