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COVID-19 and Lab Testing: What’s the Story Behind the Story?

April 29, 2020 | Blog | By Hope Foster, Joanne Hawana

Recently, newspapers and television news programs have been full of stories about laboratory testing and the important role it will play in containing the spread of COVID-19 and reopening U.S. economic activity. But these stories have told a mixed tale. The Washington Post and The New York Times both ran front page stories on April 19, 2020 about how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had bungled production of the first U.S. test kits for detecting the presence of the novel coronavirus by manufacturing them in a lab contaminated with the virus, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA, which regulates test kits, testing materials, and testing instruments, had investigated the causes of its sister agency’s failure, which delayed by weeks the nation’s fight against the virus.

Only days before those stories ran, news outlets reported that Great Britain had paid $20 million to purchase antibody tests from China but, upon their arrival in Great Britain, those tests were found not to work. On April 26, 2020, the front page story in The New York Times headlined that “Testing Remains Scarce as States Weigh Reopening.”

Day after day, we have read conflicting stories about lab testing: do we have sufficient capacity and capability or do we not? If we do not, why don’t we? We have seen an alphabet soup of federal agencies named as being involved with clinical labs and working towards a solution to the many issues that have been raised. Having worked with labs for decades, we thought we would explore these really important questions. Which agency is responsible for what, and what are they doing? Every day we receive questions like these, and we thought that we would share what we have learned.
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On Friday, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) issued responses to a series of frequently asked questions (FAQs), in an effort to provide some level of regulatory flexibility for health care providers responding to COVID-19 concerns.  These FAQs relate to enforcement of the OIG’s administrative enforcement authorities under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and Civil Monetary Penalties Law prohibiting beneficiary inducement (Beneficiary Inducement CMPL) only.
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In Case You Missed It: COVID-19 Webinars to Keep You Informed

April 24, 2020 | Blog | By Michelle Caton

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty and unique challenges in nearly every aspect of life. During this unprecedented time, Mintz is working to keep our clients and community informed and empowered to navigate this new world. To that end, we’ve created a number of webinars on a variety of COVID-19-related topics of interest to health care industry stakeholders. In case you missed them, here’s a highlights reel of what we’ve covered so far – just click on the links below to access the webinar recordings.
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Since our last roundup-style blog post on the response of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the agency has taken a wide variety of additional actions with the goal of getting much-needed medical products into the hands of health care providers on the frontlines of the pandemic as it hits the United States hard. We’ve already covered recent FDA policy changes aimed at expanding the availability of face masks, face shields, and respirators (see prior post here), so today’s post will focus on other emergency actions outside of the personal protective equipment space. Mintz clinical laboratory experts are also preparing separate articles on the diagnostic and antibody testing issues ongoing with the COVID-19 response, so we are not going to discuss testing in today’s post either.
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We’ve written previously about the role of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in regulating wireless medical devices, chiefly in determining the operating frequency and certain technical rules that ensure co-existence with other devices and wireless users. As part of that process, manufacturers must submit prototypes of new devices for testing and review by independent third party test labs and certification bodies (TCBs). The FCC prohibits responsible parties, such as manufacturers and resellers, from importing, marketing, or selling any device subject to this equipment approval process prior to obtaining approval from a TCB, which comes in the form of a grant of equipment certification.
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As many of our readers know, as a result of the public health emergency caused by COVID-19, effective March 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) issued blanket waivers of its authority under Section 1877(g) of the Social Security Act (which authorizes the imposition of certain sanctions for violations of the Stark Law) with respect to 18 categories of remuneration and/or referrals (the “Blanket Waivers”).
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In response to the spread of COVID-19, on March 23, 2020, President Trump signed Executive Order 13910 (Order) to prevent the hoarding of health and medical resources necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19 within the United States. Through the Order, the President delegated his authority under the Defense Production Act of 1950, 50 U.S.C. § 4512 (Act) to the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Order authorizes HHS to protect scarce and threatened health care and medical items by designating particular items as protected under the Act (Designated Items). Once an item is designated, the Act makes it a crime for any person to accumulate Designated Items: (i) in excess of the reasonable demands of business, personal, or home consumption; or (ii) for the purpose of resale at prices in excess of prevailing market prices. In this post, we discuss four things to know in connection with the Order.
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Law Enforcement Stays Active During the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 13, 2020 | Blog | By Hope Foster

Last Tuesday, we blogged about the arrest of the owner of a Georgia-based marketing company who was charged with health care fraud and conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute. The government has alleged that laboratories paid the company kickbacks for Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing leads.

The very next day, the United States Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, Texas charged 39 year-old Christopher Perez with allegedly perpetuating a COVID-19-related hoax by posting a false threat on Facebook in which he claimed to have paid someone to spread COVID-19 at grocery stores in Texas. These prompt actions to implement Attorney General William Barr’s March 16 call to prioritize the detection, investigation, and detection of all criminal conduct related to the COVID-19 pandemic caused us to wonder what the federal government is doing about enforcement. The answer is: a lot.
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Today's post is the last in our series on the 10-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While the Congress that passed the ACA recognized that health care delivery reform was necessary, the law included few mechanisms to address the deeper problems in this area. In this post, we will look at the changes that were made and what may lie ahead. 
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CARES Act Creates and Updates Drug and Medical Device Shortage Requirements

April 9, 2020 | Blog | By Elizabeth Conti, Aaron Josephson

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law on March 25, 2020. In addition to the $2 trillion made available for medical countermeasure development, business relief, and other measures, the CARES Act amends the drug shortage reporting requirements and creates new requirements related to medical device shortages. With increased demand for products used to diagnose and treat COVID-19 patients and the stress placed on the manufacturing and delivery of vital products, having more information about drug, drug ingredient, and device shortages is becoming more critical.
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This post is the third installment in our blog series looking back the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 10 years since it was passed. We will cover the ACA's market reforms, including the establishment of essential health benefits, as well as risk adjustment and other programs designed to mitigate some of the financial risk that insurance companies would face as a result of a potential influx of individuals with pre-existing conditions into the marketplaces. 
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A Review of the Affordable Care Act at 10 Years, Part 2: Medicaid Expansion

April 8, 2020 | Blog | By Xavier Hardy, Thomas Crane

This post is the second installment in our blog series looking back on the 10-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and will cover Medicaid expansion under the ACA. Medicaid is joint federal-state program that provides health insurance coverage to people with low incomes.  State participation in the program is voluntary, although all states currently participate.  The program has historically provided states with a significant amount of flexibility and autonomy in how it is administered.  However, in exchange for federal matching funds, states are required to comply with federal Medicaid laws and guidance. 
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The Department of Justice recently filed suit against Anthem, Inc. (Anthem) alleging that the Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) violated the False Claims Act when it knowingly failed to delete inaccurate diagnosis codes submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for risk adjustment purposes. As predicated in our 2020 outlook post, we continue to see enforcement activity and ongoing litigation against Medicare Advantage plans. Notably, this trend is referenced in SDNY’s complaint, alleging that the government has “sought to enforce” data accuracy in the risk adjustment system by “actively pursuing legal remedies against [] MAOs that have knowingly submitted inaccurate and untruthful diagnosis data to CMS[.]” The complaint provides four examples of settlements obtained from 2012-2019 against MAOs and healthcare providers who, purportedly like Anthem, submitted inaccurate diagnosis codes to CMS or allegedly failed to delete unsupported diagnosis codes.
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On March 16th, Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum to all United States Attorneys directing each U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) to “prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of all criminal conduct related to the current pandemic,” noting that “the pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic.”  It appears that USAOs have wasted no time in prioritizing such cases, as the owner of a Georgia-based marketing company that generated leads for medical-testing companies was arrested earlier this week and charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute.
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A Review of the Affordable Care Act at 10 Years, Part 1: The Individual Mandate

April 7, 2020 | Blog | By Xavier Hardy, Thomas Crane

This post is the first installment in our blog series looking back on the 10-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The most controversial of the ACA's reforms has been the individual mandate, which requires that individuals maintain health care coverage that meets certain standards (known as “minimum essential coverage”) or pay a penalty in the form of a tax.  Even as the law was winding itself through the legislative process, the individual mandate received a fair amount of attention outside the typical industry specific publications that cover the minutia of health care reform.  While  there were some critics of the individual mandate who, even prior to enactment, specifically argued the individual mandate was unconstitutional, most of the coverage dealt with a more basic underlying question: was it appropriate for the government to mandate that everyone pay for health insurance? 
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On April 2, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a revised temporary enforcement policy regarding the manufacture and distribution of face masks and filtering facepiece respirators during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The revisions address two key omissions from the initial policy, which was released on March 25, 2020 and which we summarized in a prior blog post. Specifically, the agency has now provided guidance on: (1) the importation of respirators not approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and (2) the manufacture and distribution of face shields. FDA also added a question and answer about respirators manufactured in China to the KN95 air filtering standard (the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. government’s N95 standard) to its FAQ page on the personal protective equipment shortage and issued an emergency use authorization for non-NIOSH-approved respirators made in China.
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A Review of the Affordable Care Act at 10 Years

April 6, 2020 | Blog | By Xavier Hardy, Thomas Crane

Two weeks ago marked the tenth anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which Mintz has been closely monitoring, it is understandable why the anniversary has largely flown under the radar.  However, now is as good a time as any to reflect on all the controversy that has surrounded the law over the last decade, as well as how much the law has accomplished. While far from comprehensive, our upcoming blog series will review some of the impacts the law has had on the U.S. healthcare system, in particular focusing on the legal issues and debates that have surrounded the law.  Mintz has previously covered many of these items, and links to our prior coverage is included throughout.
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We’ve been blogging periodically on the various actions taken and enforcement policies being developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support and expand the national response to the declared COVID-19 public health emergency. At the same time, however, the agency has also been taking various steps to help medical product sponsors and consumer product manufacturers and distributors prioritize their ongoing regulatory compliance activities during this challenging period for business-as-usual.

As we’ve already covered in depth (see prior post here), on March 18, 2020 the agency issued guidance for clinical trial sponsors regarding how to ensure the continued safety and informed consent of human subjects. That critical guidance document was updated on March 30 to add a new appendix with common sponsor questions, and FDA has stated that it plans to further update the appendix as new questions arise. Over the past several weeks, the agency has issued the following important policies on other issues that also seek to provide some much-needed regulatory relief to FDA-regulated manufacturers and distributors.
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As we’ve previously discussed on the blog, telehealth is playing a critical role in delivering care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Congress and states continue to take action to expand the use and reimbursement of telehealth services. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed by Congress last Friday includes many provisions that further expand the use and reimbursement of telehealth during this public health emergency. Congress previously took action to start waiving certain telehealth requirements in the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act (Appropriations Act) passed on March 6, 2020, which we previously discussed here. In this post, we’ll cover the key ways that the CARES Act continues to remove barriers to telehealth, in addition to other recent federal and state actions.
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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently allowed a False Claims Act (FCA) case based on an alleged lack of medical necessity to proceed, rejecting the lower court's decision that subjective medical opinions about the necessity of hospitalization cannot be "objectively false." The Ninth Circuit joins several other circuits (including the Third Circuit, which recently issued the Druding decision that we posted about a few weeks ago) in reaching this decision, which has been a rapidly evolving area of FCA law.
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