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340B Administrative Dispute Resolution Goes Live Amid a Flurry of 340B Litigation

January 18, 2021 | Blog | By Daryl Berke, Ellyn Sternfield

The U.S. Department of Health and Human’s Services (HHS) Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) long-awaited administrative dispute resolution (ADR) final rule went into effect last week, on January 13, 2021. The ADR regulations, which have lingered in HHS since 2010, arrive amid increasing tensions and a flood of 340B-related litigation between covered entities, manufacturers, and HHS.
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HIPAA 2021 – What Can We Expect?

December 28, 2020 | Blog | By Dianne Bourque, Ellen Janos, Michelle Caton

As we’re all painfully aware, public health issues dominated 2020 and with the country’s attention focused on COVID-19 testing, status, transmission and care, HIPAA went mainstream. Health information became critical not only for health care providers, but for all manner of businesses, employers, property owners, and the national media. HIPAA – or more often than not “HIPPA” – was frequently touted in the news and on social media as the reason why COVID-related information could or could not be shared. As we head into 2021 with the pandemic raging on, the vaccination program underway, and a new administration taking over, here is a look at what we expect for “HIPPA” in 2021.
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HHS Keeps On Sprinting with Proposed Modifications to the HIPAA Privacy Rule

December 14, 2020 | Blog | By Dianne Bourque, Michelle Caton

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pushing ahead in its Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care with a new proposed rule, announced by HHS’ Office for Civil Rights on December 10, to modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule. This proposed rule follows HHS’ 2018 Request for Information on Modifying HIPAA Rules to Improve Coordinated Care, which sought to identify regulatory impediments to value-based care presented by HIPAA. With this proposed rule, HHS aims to “reduce burden on providers and support new ways for them to innovate and coordinate care on behalf of patients, while ensuring that [HHS] uphold[s] HIPAA’s promise of privacy and security,” according to HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan. It would achieve these objectives through a variety of updates to the Privacy Rule, which we highlight in this blog post, along with initial reactions from our HIPAA privacy team.
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As you know, we have been parsing through the HHS rules that finalize important changes to the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Physician Self-Referral Law (Stark Law) regulations, which go into effect January 19, 2021. Today, we are taking a look at changes to existing AKS safe harbors and Stark Law exceptions, and, an extra add-on: a new Stark Exception for Limited Remuneration to a Physician. Mintz is also hosting a webinar during which we will review the key provisions from the final rules and provide practical examples of how the industry can take advantage of these significant changes. We hope you can join us.
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This third post in our multi-part series on the final rules examines the three new AKS safe harbors and four new Stark Law exceptions that offer protection for value-based arrangements. The primary goal of these final rules is to reduce regulatory barriers and advance the health care industry’s transition to value-based care. Value-based care, often referred to as pay-for-performance, is a payment model that offers health care providers and suppliers financial incentives to meet certain performance measures that improve quality of care or appropriately reduce costs, as opposed to traditional fee-for-service or capitated payments healthcare reimbursement.

Plus, we have prepared easy-to-read comparison charts breaking down the current, proposed, and final regulations. These comparison charts offer a quick way to get up to speed on these voluminous final rules and their many historic changes to the AKS and Stark Law.
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Are Speaker Programs a Thing of the Past? OIG’s Fraud Alert Indicates It Thinks They Should Be

November 25, 2020 | Blog | By Laurence Freedman, Elizabeth Conti

In the midst of the pandemic emergency, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a stern warning about in-person educational programs for health care professionals (HCPs), known as “speaker programs.” The OIG’s Special Fraud Alert (Alert) highlights what it deems the “inherent fraud and abuse risks” associated with the offer, payment, solicitation, or receipt of remuneration related to speaker programs by pharmaceutical and medical device companies. The OIG expressed that is skeptical of the educational value of such programs, and thus the Alert sends a clear signal that such programs will undergo intense scrutiny under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). OIG is using the pandemic as an opportunity to caution the pharmaceutical and medical device industry to limit or eliminate in-person speaker programs once such programs are able to resume.
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On November 20, 2020, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) finalized significant changes to the regulations implementing the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS), the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the Stark Law), and the civil monetary penalty rules regarding beneficiary inducements (Beneficiary Inducements CMP). The final rules are part of HHS’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care and are designed to offer the health care industry more flexibility and to reduce the regulatory burden associated with the AKS and the Stark Law, particularly with respect to value-based arrangements and care coordination. Offering a number of industry-friendly changes, the final rules will have a far-reaching impact on the health care industry.
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An Update on FDA’s Contribution to COVID-19 Diagnostic Testing

November 5, 2020 | Blog | By Joanne Hawana

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we published a post outlining the different kinds of diagnostic tests that were being marketed and the different roles of the two main federal regulators that oversee the quality of different subsets of tests. Since then, there have been some important policy developments affecting diagnostic and antibody testing. There also has been significant growth in the number of tests authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for point-of-care uses in various patient settings such as clinics, emergency departments, and physician offices. Read on for an update about these developments.
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On October 29, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the first publicly-available settlement involving alleged violations of CMS’s Open Payments Program, otherwise known as the Sunshine Act. The $9.2 million settlement resolved allegations that Minnesota-based medical device manufacturer Medtronic USA Inc. violated (i) the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the False Claims Act (FCA) by paying kickbacks to a South Dakota neurosurgeon, Wilson Asfora, M.D., and (ii) the Open Payments reporting requirements by failing to accurately report payments it made to Asfora to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS). While this settlement is the first public enforcement action involving Open Payments violations, more enforcement actions may be expected in the near future.
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CMS recently issued a proposed rule that would grant breakthrough medical devices Medicare coverage immediately upon FDA approval. The rule also proposes to codify a new definition of “reasonable and necessary” for Medicare national coverage determinations that takes into account commercial insurance coverage of items and services. It is unclear how broadly this new "reasonable and necessary" definition will apply if the proposed rule is finalized.
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced what appears to be the first public warning made by the agency to a company promoting an approved prescription drug product for the unapproved use of treating COVID-19 symptoms. Although the regulatory action was announced in the FDA’s daily pandemic update on October 2, 2020, the warning letter issued by the Office of Prescription Drug Promotion (OPDP) is dated September 22, 2020. From our perspective, this public FDA action is notable for two distinct policy reasons.
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On September 9, 2020, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a $50 million settlement with Wheeling Hospital, Inc. of West Virginia to resolve False Claims Act allegations that Wheeling Hospital violated the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Stark Law. The settlement resolved False Claims Act allegations that were triggered by a qui tam lawsuit brought by a former vice president of Wheeling Hospital who oversaw hospital operations and physician engagements. According to the relator's complaint, Wheeling Hospital, under its former management, paid several physicians annual compensation in excess of a million dollars based on the volume or value of their referrals.
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Bioethics in a Pandemic: Vaccine Research and Clinical Trials

September 16, 2020 | Blog | By Bridgette Keller, Benjamin Zegarelli

After exploring some of the ethical questions involved in allocating and distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine and the basic tenets of bioethics, we continue by delving into the ethical issues relating to the vaccine development process, including clinical trials. As a first step, we provide a very brief introduction on how vaccines are developed and tested prior to approval and release.
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Bioethics in a Pandemic: The Public’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccination

September 9, 2020 | Blog | By Bridgette Keller, Michelle Caton

As we noted in our previous post, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security (Center) has been hard at work studying and providing thought leadership regarding the COVID-19 pandemic from a variety of angles. The Center, in conjunction with Texas State University and the Working Group on Readying Populations for COVID-19 Vaccine, recently released a report exploring the public’s role in COVID-19 vaccination (Report). The Report provides recommendations to U.S. policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders about how to advance public understanding of, access to, and acceptance of vaccines that protect against COVID-19.
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Earlier this week, a committee of the National Academies sponsored by the CDC and NIH released its Draft Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine. This Draft Framework builds on the successes and challenges of past vaccine allocation frameworks, as well as current frameworks for allocating scarce COVID-19 resources. This blog reviews these past frameworks that laid the foundation for the committee to develop its decision-making framework.
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CMS Announces One-Year Delay in Finalizing Highly Anticipated Stark Law Reform

August 27, 2020 | Blog | By Karen Lovitch, Rachel Yount

On Wednesday, August 26th, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice extending the deadline to finalize significant proposed changes to the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the Stark Law) announced last year. CMS published the proposed rule on October 17, 2019 in tandem with a companion proposed rule issued by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) with equally sweeping changes to the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). Both rules were issued as part of CMS’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care and offer a number of industry-friendly changes designed to reduce regulatory burden associated with the Stark Law and the AKS and allow for increased adoption of value-based arrangements.
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Bioethics in a Pandemic: The Basics

August 26, 2020 | Blog | By Bridgette Keller, David Friedman

Before we continue our Bioethics in a Pandemic series, we thought it would be helpful to provide a quick overview of the various principles that inform ethical decision-making in the health care setting.

As you might imagine, providing health care to individuals with diverse background and values presents ethical choices for health care professionals every day, throughout the entire health care system – providers, administrators, policymakers, insurers, employers, and even the health care lawyers! Well-recognized bioethics scholars Tom Beauchamp and James Childress offer a principle-based approach to guide ethical decision-making in health care. The four principles are (1) Respect for Autonomy, (2) Nonmaleficence, (3) Beneficence, and (4) Justice.
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As we discussed in our previous blog post, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) released guidance this past June to address how health care providers could contact, in a HIPAA-compliant manner, recovered COVID-19 patients to provide them with information about donating blood and plasma to potentially help other COVID-19 patients. On August 24, OCR released an updated version of that guidance to address similar communications from health plans. The amended guidance provides that health plans may also reach out to recovered COVID-19 patients about blood and plasma donation, subject to the same restrictions applicable to health care providers.
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About a month ago, I predicted on this blog that Food and Drug Administration’s November 2020 enforcement discretion deadline announced as part of its Comprehensive Regenerative Medicine Policy Framework would most likely not be extended. My view was based on a June 17 editorial by agency leadership discussing the risks of unapproved cellular therapy products, which didn’t suggest an extension was forthcoming, as well as an increase in Warning/Untitled Letters related to such products as compared to this time last year. In that earlier blog post I wrote: “Nothing in this newly published editorial suggests that [the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] will be taking its proverbial foot off the pedal to slow down its efforts towards further oversight of the private stem cell clinic industry after November 2020.”
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OIG Approves Discount Medical Plan Referral Arrangement

July 6, 2020 | Blog | By Theresa Carnegie, Jane Haviland

On June 26, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued Advisory Opinion No. 20-03 approving the payment by a discount medical plan organization (DMPO) of a five dollar ($5.00) fee to chiropractors for the referral of new members to the DMPO.  OIG determined that even though the arrangement could result in prohibited remuneration, it would not impose administrative sanctions or civil monetary penalties for violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS). 
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