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On March 25, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a temporary policy relating to enforcement of regulatory requirements for face masks and respirators during the COVID-19 crisis. Since the public health emergency began, the United States has experienced a shortage of masks, respirators, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) which are critically needed for health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients in all states. FDA previously created emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for NIOSH-approved disposable respirators for use in health care settings and imported non-NIOSH-approved disposable respirators, but the temporary enforcement policy represents an attempt to open the manufacturing, importation, and distribution flood gates to make more masks and respirators available as quickly as possible.
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As authorized by Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it will extend temporary Medicare billing privileges to physicians and non-physician practitioners via telephone and that it will expedite pending enrollment applications submitted by all other providers and suppliers, including DMEPOS.  CMS made the announcement on March 13th and followed up with the publication of FAQs related to enrollment relief earlier this week.

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Yesterday, we blogged on how scammers are trying to monetize on the COVID-19 health crisis for their personal gain. Though the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer update yesterday saying that there is still no approved vaccine or drug to prevent or treat this disease, companies have continued to market products that claim to prevent, treat, or even cure COVID-19 in an attempt to “help” or profit from distressed, vulnerable Americans. While the FDA is working tirelessly to review possible vaccines, treatments, and cures, Americans should avoid endangering their health or lives by self-medicating. Per the FDA, self-medicating with any new product on the shelf (real or virtual) could not only lead to adverse effects but also could interfere with crucial medications. We are closely monitoring whether Congress will take specific actions on these increasingly prevalent issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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COVID-19 Fraud Alerts and Government Actions

March 24, 2020 | Blog | By Rachel Irving Pitts

In the past couple of days, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) each issued warnings about fraudulent schemes relating to COVID-19. While we are all taking precautions to stay safe and #flattenthecurve -- with many under orders to shelter in place -- scammers are preying on fears and insecurities and hawking test kits and vaccines for the virus. These scams are reminders to trust our medical professionals and access them when we feel sick and to think twice when something sounds too good to be true. 
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FDA Issues Guidance Addressing COVID-19 Interference with Clinical Trials

March 21, 2020 | Blog | By Dianne Bourque, Benjamin Zegarelli

In recognition of the widespread disruptions the COVID-19 crisis is posing to planned and ongoing clinical trials at sites throughout the United States (and global clinical sites), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued on Wednesday, March 18 a guidance describing potential considerations for adjusting trial processes and, potentially, protocols and statistical analysis plans to mitigate any difficulties meeting trial objectives due to interference from the virus and related social and governmental restrictions. The document, titled FDA Guidance on Conduct of Clinical Trials of Medical Products during COVID-19 Pandemic, describes various potential complications, such as subjects being unable to travel to the trial site, loss of access to investigational product, or the need to screen subjects for COVID-19, as well as general recommendations for addressing them.
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In the midst of the upheaval caused by social distancing and related efforts to minimize and contain COVID-19-related risks, we have been monitoring steps taken by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices (USAOs), and federal courts to adapt to these circumstances.  Any steps taken are sure to affect ongoing government investigations and related proceedings and how we, as defense counsel, approach them. 
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Congress and the White House Continue Efforts to Respond to Coronavirus

March 19, 2020 | Blog | By Anthony DeMaio, David Chorney

The response to the coronavirus situation is fluid and fast-moving – particularly by Congress’ standards.  In response to the coronavirus pandemic, three phases of legislation have been considered in Congress: Coronavirus Supplemental Appropriations Act (signed into law March 6th); Families First Coronavirus Response Act (signed into law March 18th); and a large ($1 trillion+) economic recovery package (currently being drafted). This post provides details about these legislative efforts and other recent actions by the White House to address the coronavirus pandemic.
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has taken many actions to loosen or waive requirements on the provision of health care during the current coronavirus pandemic, as we discussed yesterday and Tuesday. In addition to HHS’s waiver of certain HIPAA requirements, HHS’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced that it will not be imposing penalties for providers who use communication devices or other technologies that do not meet HIPAA’s requirements in order to treat patients via telehealth.
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FDA’s Ongoing Response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak

March 18, 2020 | Blog | By Joanne Hawana, Aaron Josephson, Benjamin Zegarelli

As we write this update on the actions of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), more state and local governments (along with private businesses and employers) are taking sweeping actions to protect the public from the continued spread of COVID-19. The federal response to what is now a pandemic of COVID-19 started off slowly, but we are now seeing frequent and promising announcements from FDA and other agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services.

We published our first installment highlighting FDA’s role in this public health emergency on March 4, 2020 (see our prior post here). In the two weeks that have elapsed since then, FDA has taken several actions related to COVID-19 testing and other important public health protections which are explained below. One of the most striking things about the list of actions included in this post may be how diverse and broad FDA’s authorities are and what a substantial role the agency plays in protecting Americans from a variety of different types of harm.
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HIPAA Compliance in a National Emergency: What Does It Look Like in Real Life?

March 18, 2020 | Blog | By Dianne Bourque, Matt Mora

Amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex M. Azar, took steps on March 15, 2020, to waive sanctions and penalties related to certain provisions of the HIPAA Privacy Rule (the “Waiver”). However, the HIPAA Privacy Rule is not suspended, and the Waiver only applies: (1) in the emergency area identified in the public health emergency declaration; (2) to hospitals that have instituted a disaster protocol; and (3) for up to 72 hours from the time the hospital implements its disaster protocol. To demonstrate how the Privacy Rule and Waiver provisions work in real life, let’s look at an example: A patient at a hospital reports contact with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. How can this information be shared?
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Telehealth is going to play a critical role in the delivery of care in the coming weeks and months as health care providers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the CDC and other public health agencies continue to recommend social distancing and self-quarantine after exposure, telehealth is a vital tool for getting both sick and healthy individuals access to health care services they need if in-person services are not necessary. The use of telehealth services should help alleviate the ever-growing pressures on health care systems as they respond to the outbreak.  In light of these benefits, the Emergency Appropriations Bill passed by Congress last week includes provisions that allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to lift certain restrictions that are currently required for Medicare  reimbursement of telehealth services. 
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Following years of discussion, on March 5, 2020, U.S. Representatives Larry Buchson (R-IN) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) and U.S. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced identical versions of the Verifying Accurate and Leading-edge IVCT Development (VALID) Act in both chambers of Congress. The bipartisan legislation closely tracks existing medical device laws, with some notable exceptions, discussed below and in a prior post. If enacted, many regulatory elements familiar to in vitro diagnostic (IVD) and other medical device manufacturers would be applied to clinical laboratories that develop their own tests, commonly known as laboratory developed tests (LDTs). The bill also includes elements that are priorities for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including a program conceptually similar to pre-certification, third-party review, and Collaborative Communities. Unlike previously-circulated discussion drafts, the introduced bills include specific language designed to address public health emergencies, including COVID-19.
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Last week, the Third Circuit joined several other appellate courts in finding that medical opinions related to medical necessity of hospice services can be subject to scrutiny and found to be “false” for purposes of proving a violation of the False Claims Act (FCA) in U.S. ex rel. Druding v. Care Alternatives. Our Health Care Enforcement Defense Group has been closely tracking recent qui tam cases brought under the FCA based on allegations that health care services or procedures lacked the requisite medical necessity, including the conclusion of the landmark AseraCare case last week.  As we’ve previously discussed on the blog, several district courts across the country have determined that differences of opinions between physicians and medical experts alone cannot be used to prove the FCA’s falsity requirement. However, some appellate courts have reached different conclusions. The Third Circuit’s decision last week in Care Alternatives joins those appellate courts in rejecting this argument and finding that “a difference of medical opinion is enough evidence to create a triable dispute of fact regarding FCA falsity.”
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Some clinical trial sponsors and principal investigators will be digging through their archives soon as a result of a recent ruling in the case of Seife v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, case number 1:18-cv-11462 (S.D.N.Y. 2018). In Seife, the plaintiffs – an investigative journalist and a former Associate Commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – challenged a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) final rule that implemented clinical trial reporting requirements mandated by the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act (FDAAA).
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FDA’s Evolving Response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak

March 4, 2020 | Blog | By Aaron Josephson, Joanne Hawana

Within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), many agencies have responsibility for responding to public health emergencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as its name implies, is at the forefront of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak as the government seeks to control and prevent the spread of the virus in the United States. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), particularly the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are also involved, primarily conducting research into the sources, cause, and means of transmission of the new virus and coordinating vaccine development efforts. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring the safety and effectiveness of medical products and therefore has oversight over any clinical trials for promising coronavirus treatments (drugs, vaccines, devices), as well as authority to authorize the marketing of any such product. The agency oversees the drug supply chain and monitors drug and device shortages. This blog post covers steps that FDA has taken to mitigate potential drug and device shortages related to coronavirus and to otherwise respond to the coronavirus situation.
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Landmark AseraCare Case Finally Ends in Settlement

March 2, 2020 | Blog | By Samantha Kingsbury, Brian Dunphy, Laurence Freedman

As many of our readers know, the AseraCare case was closely watched over the last several years because of its significance to efforts by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to allege that submission of claims for services lacking “medical necessity” violate the False Claims Act (FCA) as well as to efforts by providers to defend such cases. On Wednesday, we learned that the AseraCare case has reached its dramatic conclusion with an agreement to resolve $200 million in alleged damages for the agreed amount, as reported by AseraCare, of $1 million.
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As a continuation of our series on the Contract Year 2021 and 2022 Policy and Technical Changes to the Medicare Advantage Program, Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Program, Medicaid Program (the “Proposed Rule”) released by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) earlier this month, this blog focuses on CMS’s codification of its recent guidance on supplemental benefits, including guidance on Special Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill (“SSBCI”). It also discusses CMS’s proposed changes to the medical loss ratio (“MLR”) to account for changes in supplemental benefits.
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As regular readers of our blog know, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) intensified its push for drug pricing transparency in 2019. In 2020, we see a continuation of those efforts, and their impacts on the 340B program are now starting to reveal themselves. On January 1, 2019, the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) finally implemented the ceiling price and manufacturer civil monetary penalties (CMPs) regulations that the agency proposed in 2017. The regulations implement certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act and were initially scheduled to go into effect on February 28, 2017, but were repeatedly delayed.
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Health Care Data Breaches Are Increasing Both in Number and Cost

February 20, 2020 | Blog | By Sarah Beth Kuyers

It feels like we’ve been seeing a lot more health care breaches caused by hackers and other IT security incidents recently, and there’s a good reason why: a recent report by cloud security company Bitglass confirms that both the number of breaches and individuals affected by breaches caused by hackers and IT incidents grew significantly last year.  Bitglass analyzed data from the breach portal, affectionately known as the “Wall of Shame,” published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR).  Pursuant to the HITECH Act, HHS is required to post a list of all reported breaches that affect 500 or more individuals. OCR classifies the types of breaches reported on the Wall of Shame, and the "Hacking/IT Incident" category includes a variety of breaches, including malicious intrusion, malware, ransomware, phishing, and general IT security failures.
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Closing the Orphan Drug Act Loophole

February 18, 2020 | Blog | By Aaron Josephson

On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation to eliminate the “orphan drug loophole.” Current law allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to grant seven years of market exclusivity to a drug manufacturer if the drug is intended to treat a disease or condition affecting fewer than 200,000 patients in the U.S., or less commonly, if the manufacturer cannot expect to recover the costs of developing and marketing a drug. In some cases, even if the drug developer meets the orphan drug criterion of having no hope of recovering the costs, the drug does actually become profitable—some significantly so—but competitors are still barred from entering the market with a lower-cost alternative during the 7-year exclusivity period that exists by operation of law. To combat this issue, the recently introduced Senate bill (as well as a nearly-identical House bill introduced in October 2019) targets a loophole that allows market exclusivity under the Orphan Drug Act to be extended for future versions of the same drug without the drug's manufacturer having to show that the drug remains unprofitable.
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