On March 27, 2023, two United States Senators, Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced the bipartisan No Unreasonable Payments, Coding, or Diagnoses for the Elderly (“No UPCODE”) Act to address perceived financial incentives inherent in the Medicare Advantage patient risk scoring reimbursement methodology. Senator Merkley alleges that the current reimbursement
Agencies suspend No Surprises Act IDR payment determinations after court order
The three agencies that oversee the independent dispute resolution (IDR) process established by the No Surprises Act have notified certified IDR entities that they should not issue any new payment determinations while the agencies evaulate and update IDR guidance to comply with a recent court decision vacating provisions of the IDR rule.
The notice comes…
Portions of No Surprises Act IDR rule procedures set aside by federal court again
For the second time in 12 months, a federal district court has set aside provisions of the No Surprises Act’s Independent Dispute Resolution Final Rule on the grounds that the portions of the rule that provide guidance to arbitrators on how to weight price submissions violate the statute’s requirements.
This decision from Judge Jeremy D. Kernodle for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in a group of challenges to the rule, consolidated under Texas Medical Association v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (No. 6:22-cv-372), follows closely on the Requirements Related to Surprise Billing Final Rule issued in August 2022 (August Rule), which sought to address earlier criticisms of the independent dispute resolution process, and marks the second time that the rule has been vacated in part and sent back to the three agencies for another chance.
The previous remand was covered in an earlier post on this blog. In both that instance and in this one, the court took issue with the prominence of the “qualifying payment amount” or QPA. The QPA is a statutorily defined payment rate that represents the median contracted rates recognized by an insurer for the same or similar items or services in the same geographic area.…
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CMS Considers National Directory of Healthcare Providers and Services
In its latest effort to increase transparency and improve patient access to information about their health care providers the U.S. Department Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a Request for Information (RFI) on October 7, 2022, seeking input on creation of a national provider directory for use by patients, regulators, and insurers.
According to the announcement, the RFI was prompted by inefficiencies arising from “the fragmentation of current provider directories” maintained by providers, insurers and/or third-party sources that CMS believes could be remedied by a federal provider directory containing “digital contact information containing the most accurate, up-to-date, and validated . . . data in a publicly accessible index.”
The stated goal of the RFI is to examine the feasibility and requirements for a proposed National Directory of Healthcare Providers and Service (NDH). Responses to the RFI are due by December 6, 2022, and stakeholder comments already are being submitted.…
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Agencies Look for Input on No Surprises Act Good Faith Estimate Rules
Following closely after the clarifying independent dispute resolution process Final Rule, the four executive branch entities tasked with implementing the provisions of the No Surprises Act, the Office of Personnel Management, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service have issued a request for information to help the agencies craft the next stage of regulations for the surprise billing law.
The request is the latest effort by agencies to seek stakeholder input on the contours of the regulations implementing the No Surprises Act, this time with a focus on the requirements in the law for providers to issue a good faith estimate (GFE) to plans for services that their covered patients will submit for reimbursement and for insurers to issue an advanced explanation of benefits (AEOB) to their plan participants based on estimated charges relayed to them by providers.
Specifically, the entities are looking for information and recommendations on the process of transferring data from providers and facilities to plans, issuers and carriers to facilitate the GFE and AEOB processes, as well as the economic impacts of implementing these requirements. The notice was added to the Federal Register on Friday, Sept. 16 and comments are due to the agencies by November 15.…
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OIG Approves Rewards Program for Medicare Advantage Organizations
After a long line of opinions scrutinizing the use of rewards programs offered by providers, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) issued Advisory Opinion 22-16 on August 19, 2022– a favorable opinion for the provision of gift cards to Medicare Advantage (“MA’) plan enrollees who complete educational modules as part of an online surgical treatment learning tool.
The opinion adds flexibility to existing opinions on gift cards and patient engagement programs and, while binding only on the requestor, provides insight into the OIG’s evolving view of these programs.…
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Departments issue new Final Rule and guidance materials for No Surprises Act IDR process
On August 26, 2022, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury (the “Departments”) issued the highly anticipated Requirements Related to Surprise Billing (“August 2022 Final Rule”) and associated guidance materials concerning the independent dispute resolution (“IDR”) process established by the No Surprises Act. The August 2022 Final Rule is narrow in scope and responds to two recent decisions by the Eastern District of Texas vacating portions of the October 2021 Interim Final Rule, Requirements Related to Surprise Billing: Part II (“IFR II”), and incorporates stakeholder comments solicited by the Departments.
Importantly, as discussed more below, the August 2022 Final Rule removes the qualifying payment amount (“QPA”) as the presumptive factor in IDR payment decisions and requires health plans to submit additional information in the IDR process for cases where a claim at issue was “downcoded” by the plan.
The August 2022 Final Rule will take effect October 25, 2022, 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register…
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CMS levies penalties for non-compliance with Hospital Price Transparency Rule
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) issued the first round of civil monetary penalties to two hospitals in Georgia for failure to comply with the requirements of the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule (the “Rule”) on June 7, 2022.
According to the Notices of Imposition of a Civil Monetary Penalty published on the CMS Price Transparency Website, Northside Hospital Atlanta (“Northside Atlanta”) and Northside Hospital Cherokee (“Northside Cherokee”) failed to publish their standard charges and provide access to a machine-readable searchable tool, which would include standard prices for the hospitals’ items and services. CMS took this action after both hospitals failed to respond to the Warning Notices and Requests for Corrective Action Plans issued by CMS.
Effective January 1, 2021, hospitals must publish a machine-readable file that discloses the hospital’s negotiated rates with health plans, gross charges, discounted cash prices, and de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated charges for all items and services. Additionally, hospitals must publish a consumer-friendly, searchable tool that displays in plain language the prices of 300 shoppable medical services that a consumer can schedule in advance.…
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HRSA asks for comment on provider relief fund and ARP rural reporting requirements
In a notice published on April 7, 2022, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the division of HHS that manages the distribution and oversight of CARES Act Provider Relief Funds (PRFs), requested comments from stakeholders on proposed changes to its Information Collection Request (ICR) Form that it will be submitting to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
The approved ICR uses an OMB form that is set to expire on January 1, 2023, so HRSA is requesting comments before submitting revisions to OMB. This is the first opportunity for providers who were subject to the first two PRF reporting periods (Period 1 and Period 2) to comment on the reporting program and provide feedback on requirements related to those reports. In addition to revising the PRF reporting form, HRSA is looking to add reporting for the American Rescue Plan (ARP) rural provider program to the ICR.
The ARP rural provider program was put in place by Congress to provide payments to providers and suppliers who served rural Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare beneficiaries from January 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020. The ARP Rural plan is distinct from the PRF, but it has similar reporting requirements and uses the PRF reporting portal for applications.
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Provider relief fund reporting: HRSA to recoup funds from providers who didn’t meet deadlines
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) office, is taking action to recoup CARES Act funding from health care providers who received relief funding but did not meet the reporting requirements set by HRSA.
To receive COVID-19 relief funding from HRSA pursuant to the CARES Act, providers had to attest to compliance with the terms and conditions promulgated by HRSA. Recipients of the funds must agree to the terms and conditions specific to the Phase in which they received funding distribution. Those terms and conditions evolved over time, with different reporting periods for each wave of funding. Under all waves, failure to report to HRSA regarding the use or allocation of received funds constitutes noncompliance with HRSA’s terms and conditions and requires repayment of the funds.
Providers who completed reporting, but reported unused funds, will have 30 days from the end of their specific reporting deadline to return all unused funds.
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OSHA reopens comments on COVID-19 Healthcare Emergency Temporary Standard
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has reopened the comment period on its June 2021 interim final rule establishing an Emergency Temporary Standard governing occupational exposure to COVID-19 in healthcare settings, codified at 29 C.F.R. § 1910 Subpart U (“Healthcare ETS”).
While this reopening reaches certain questions and issues presented by OSHA and not the entire rule, the reopening of the comment period signals the beginning of the effort to finalize a permanent standard by OSHA only three months after the agency withdrew the Healthcare ETS. The Healthcare ETS required healthcare organizations to develop a COVID-19 plan for its workplace that included health screening and management, masking, distancing, and support for vaccination. The Healthcare ETS was withdrawn in December 2021 because OSHA determined that its efforts to establish a permanent standard would exceed the six-month time period allowed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
The notice reopening the comment period gives stakeholders both an early view into potential regulatory outcomes of the final rule as well as a series of information requests.
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Portion of No Surprises Act IDR rule procedures set aside by federal district court
On February 23, 2022, a federal district court judge in Texas agreed with the Texas Medical Association that some provisions of the interim final rules implementing the No Surprises Act were promulgated in violation of the provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). As a remedy, the court ordered those provisions vacated and remanded the affected rules back to the federal agencies for further consideration.
In a memorandum issued February 28, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, one of the federal agencies that promulgated the rule (along with the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service) indicated that it was still reviewing the court’s decision and considering next steps, which could include an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Additionally, CMS said that it was withdrawing any guidance documents based on the invalidated sections and will launch revised guidance and training for certified independent dispute resolution (“IDR”) entities and parties subject to the process. Those guidance documents will be edited to conform to the court’s decision and republished. Important to providers, CMS emphasized that the court’s order does not affect its other rulemaking related to the No Surprises Act.
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Final Rules Modernizing Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute Released
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released complementary rules this past Friday, November 20, 2020, to modernize and clarify the regulations that interpret the Physician Self-Referral Law (the Stark Law) and the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.
As we wrote when the proposed rules were released last autumn (see client alerts here and here),…
HHS Delays Compliance for Sweeping Interoperability and Information Blocking Rules
Following more than a month of silence from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the publication of its widely anticipated companion interoperability and information blocking final rules to the Federal Register, HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), in conjunction with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), issued a joint statement announcing a policy of enforcement discretion to allow compliance flexibilities regarding the implementation of the final rules in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. The agencies indicated that they would continue to monitor the developing public health emergency to determine if further action is necessary.
OIG Proposed Rule
OIG issued an unpublished proposed rule amending the civil monetary penalty (CMP) regulations to include new CMP authorities for violations of ONC’s information blocking final rule. OIG is seeking comment on when information blocking enforcement should begin, but has proposed to delay enforcement until 60 days after publication of the OIG’s final rule. At a minimum, enforcement would not begin sooner than the compliance date for the ONC final rule established in 45 CFR § 171.101(b), which is November 2, 2020.
CMS Final Rule
CMS announced that the agency is extending the implementation timeline by an additional six months for certain components of its interoperability rule, including, for example, the admission, discharge, and transfer notification Conditions of Participation (CoPs). In the unpublished version of CMS’ final rule, the agency initially stated these CoPs would be effective six months after the publication of the final rule. Now, they will be effective one year after the final rule is published in the Federal Register – a date that is still to be determined. CMS will implement and enforce other policies contained in the final rule on schedule.
ONC Final Rule
Earlier this week, ONC reissued the unpublished version of its final rule, which is now set for publication on May 1, 2020, with an effective date of June 30, 2020. While the publication date triggers multiple compliance dates for various components of the interoperability and information blocking provisions (set at 60 days, 6 months, and 24 months following publication), the agency is changing that timeline for certain requirements in light of the COVID-19 crisis. ONC has published new enforcement discretion dates and timeframes on its website. We have summarized some key changes to the ONC final rule compliance timeline below.…
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HHS waives requirements for health care providers under section 1135 in response to COVID-19
Shortly after President Trump declared a national emergency related to COVID-19, CMS issued blanket waivers under section 1135 of the Social Security Act that are intended to ensure there are sufficient health care items and services available to meet the increased need, as well as reduce related administrative burdens on health care providers.
Proposed Rules to Modernize Stark Law and Anti-Kickback Statute Released Today
Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced proposed changes to modernize the regulations that interpret the Physician Self-Referral Law (the Stark Law) and the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute. In a press release, HHS states these proposed rules are intended to “provide greater certainty for healthcare providers participating in value-based arrangements and providing coordinated care for patients . . . while maintaining strong safeguards to protect patients and programs from fraud and abuse.”
Over the last 30 years, HHS has issued a series of final regulations establishing exceptions and safe harbors that limit the reach of the Stark Law’s strict liability civil penalties and the Anti-Kickback Statute’s criminal penalties to protect from enforcement certain non-abusive and beneficial arrangements. These final regulations have not, however, reflected the significant shift in recent years in health care delivery and payment systems from a fee-for-service model to models based on improving value and quality of care provided to patients. As a result, many in the health care industry identify these laws, as well as the Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Law, as barriers to more effective care coordination and management that can deliver value-based care to improve quality of care, health outcomes, and efficiency. In response, on June 25, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a Request for Information seeking input on how it could address existing Stark Law barriers to these emerging value-based payment and delivery systems. Similarly, on August 27, 2018, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a Request for Information seeking feedback on how OIG could modify or add new safe harbors addressing these barriers. CMS and OIG received more than 350 comments each, which HHS has considered in publishing these proposed rules.
CMS and OIG Coordinated Proposals
The proposed rules, which span hundreds of pages, reflect close coordination between CMS and OIG, which tried to align the regulations, where appropriate, and the proposals are significant. More specifically, the coordinated proposals include:
- Three new exceptions and safe harbors for value-based payment arrangements
- Modifications to the existing electronic health record (EHR) exception and safe harbor
- The addition of a new exception and safe harbor related to the provision of cybersecurity technology and services
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CMS Releases Draft Guidance for Hospitals on Shared Space and Contracted Services
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a draft guidance for state survey agencies on May 3, 2019, impacting hospitals that share space, staff, and/or services with another co-located hospital or health care entity. The draft builds on informally followed principles by CMS employees which emphasized that certain payment rules, like those for…
New “Granston Memorandum” Outlines Factors DOJ May Consider in Dismissing Qui Tam Cases Brought by Relators
A top Department of Justice (DOJ) official has recently issued a much-anticipated memo explaining the factors DOJ will consider when deciding whether to dismiss FCA suits brought by relators in qui tam cases. Specifically, the memo by Michael Granston, Director of the Commercial Litigation Branch within the DOJ Fraud Section sets forth seven non-exhaustive factors…
Reed Smith Client Alert: OIG Finalizes Expanded Exclusion Authorities under ACA
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services has issued a final rule implementing its statutory authority under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand the exclusion regulations applicable to persons or entities receiving funds, directly or indirectly, from federal health care programs.
Specifically, the final rule expands OIG’s…
OIG Finalizes Expanded Exclusion Authorities under ACA
On January 12, 2017, the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) of the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule to expand the exclusion regulations applicable to persons or entities receiving funds, directly or indirectly, from federal health care programs (“Final Rule”). The Final Rule, which implements Affordable Care Act authority, …