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On April 16, 2021, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published twin notices in the Federal Register effectively reversing a move by the Trump administration Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on January 15, 2021 purporting to exempt 91 medical device types from the premarket notification requirement under Section 510(k) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. HHS’s actions on January 15, signed by then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar, sought to make permanent FDA’s grant of temporary enforcement discretion for the 91 device types for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Public Notice announcing that the application filing window for Round 2 of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program will run for seven days starting April 29, 2021. The application portal will open at noon ET on Thursday, April 29, and close one week later at noon ET on Thursday, May 6. Round 2 of the FCC's COVID-19 Telehealth Program will make an additional almost $250 million available to fund telehealth and connected care services provided by eligible providers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
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As we previously reported, President Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This historic legislative package provides much needed relief to millions of Americans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and essential resources to address the ongoing public health emergency. Among other things, the ARPA allocates funds to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for COVID-19 testing, contract tracing, vaccines, supplies, and other related treatment. To alleviate the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic on America’s public health care system, it includes funding for rural health providers, community health centers, and skilled nursing facilities, and makes important modifications to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This post summarizes the Medicaid provisions contained in the ARPA and their proposed changes to the Medicaid program.
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In an unexpected twist to a troubling situation that began over two years ago, U.S. Special Counsel Henry Kerner penned a letter to President Biden on March 31, 2021 questioning the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) handling of a whistleblower case that alleged improprieties surrounding compliance inspections of vaccine manufacturing facilities. Special Counsel Kerner’s letter to the President coincided with his closing of the investigation and his conclusion that the agency’s actions met “all the statutory requirements” but that they nonetheless “do not appear reasonable.” What the new leadership at the FDA’s parent Department of Health and Human Services or within Congress may do with these findings remains to be seen and certainly bears watching in the coming weeks and months. The March 31 letter was also provided to the Democratic Chairs and the ranking Republicans on the Senate Health Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversee FDA operations, increasing the likelihood of additional investigation and potentially public hearings, especially with congressional reauthorization of the various user fee programs looming as a must-pass action for 2022.
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FCC to Award Additional $249+ Million in Funding for COVID-19 Telehealth Program

April 6, 2021 | Blog | By Angela Kung, Rachel Irving Pitts

On March 29, 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted an Order establishing rules and procedures for Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (the “Program”) to continue supporting telehealth services, which have proved to be so vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a News Release accompanying the Order, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel highlighted that “[t]his past year has proven, without a doubt, that telehealth technology is critical to helping address inequities in access to health care services” and that Round 2 of this program will help address these challenges “head on.”
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Health Care Enforcement Update:  Covid-19 Fraud Cases Brought By DOJ And Private Plaintiffs

March 31, 2021 | Blog | By Grady Campion, Jane Haviland, Karen Lovitch

On Friday, March 26, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an update on its efforts to combat COVID-19 related fraud.  Since Congress first responded to the coronavirus pandemic by passing $2.2 trillion in relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, DOJ has pursued civil and criminal actions primarily targeting (1) fraudulent COVID-19 related tests or treatments, and (2) abuse of the CARES Act’s popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Friday’s announcement revealed that DOJ is also ramping up its efforts to prosecute fraud on the CARES Act’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) initiatives. 
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Telehealth Update: States Move to Permanently Expand Access to Telehealth

March 30, 2021 | Blog | By Cassandra Paolillo, Ellen Janos

Over the past year the telehealth landscape has been a patchwork of temporary waivers and regulations, expanding access during the COVID-19 pandemic but leaving providers and patients uncertain about whether the positive coverage and reimbursement changes and relaxation of pre-pandemic restrictions would continue in the future. In recent weeks, we have seen a number of state actions making permanent changes to expand access to telehealth. These changes suggest a positive trend towards making telehealth an integral part of the care delivery system, although the complicated regulatory frameworks still present challenges to providers seeking to treat patients via telehealth.
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Last week, Geisinger Health (“Geisinger”) and Evangelical Community Hospital (“Evangelical”) reached a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), resolving the DOJ’s ongoing litigation challenging Geisinger’s partial acquisition of Evangelical. Notably, the settlement agreement, among other terms, limits Geisinger’s ownership interest in Evangelical to a 7.5% passive investment and prevents Geisinger from exercising any control or influence over Evangelical.
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Health Care Enforcement Kept the DOJ Fraud Section Busy in 2020

March 8, 2021 | Blog | By Eoin Beirne, Grady Campion

On February 24, 2021, DOJ’s Criminal Division Fraud Section published its annual year-end summary. The Fraud Section focuses on prosecuting white-collar crime. The report summarizes enforcement activity in the past year and discusses notable cases from the Fraud Section’s three litigation units: (1) the Health Care Fraud (HCF) Unit; (2) the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit; and (3) the Market Integrity and Major Frauds (MIMF) Unit. In summarizing the Fraud Section’s main achievements from 2020, the report also provides valuable insights on what lies ahead for the Fraud Section in 2021. This post focuses on the health care enforcement portion of the Fraud Section’s report.
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FDA Releases Definitive Statement on Fake Registration Certificates

March 4, 2021 | Blog | By Benjamin Zegarelli

On March 3, 2021, FDA issued a statement acknowledging that certain entities produce certificates of registration for medical device manufacturers and clarifying that the agency does not issue such certificates. The agency also announced that it sent letters to 25 entities demanding that they stop producing these false and misleading certificates because some device manufacturers and distributors are using them to claim that the devices they produce or sell are cleared, approved, or otherwise authorized by FDA.
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Back in December, we wrote about a district court ruling rejecting the Federal Trade Comission’s (“FTC”) motion to enjoin the proposed combination of Thomas Jefferson University (“TJU”) and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (“Einstein”) that would create an 18-hospital system in the Philadelphia area. The FTC and the Pennsylvania Attorney General had alleged the merger would lead to TJU/Einstein controlling at least 60% of the inpatient GAC hospital services market in a portion of Philadelphia. Following the district court decision, the FTC quickly appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and filed an emergency motion for a stay pending appeal. Days later, a three-judge panel denied the government’s motion without comment.
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The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that it will exercise its enforcement discretion for health care providers’ and their business associates’ noncompliance with the HIPAA rules with respect to their good faith use of online or web-based scheduling applications for scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments. OCR will not impose penalties for such noncompliance during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) in partnership with three domain name registries disabled nearly 30 websites illegally offering opioids for sale. Working together as part of a pilot program jointly created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Commerce (Commerce), FDA and NTIA aim to reduce the availability of unapproved and misbranded opioids illicitly offered for virtual sale. Based on several joint warning letters and the subsequent shuttering of numerous websites illegally selling opioids, it would appear the partnership is a success. Both agencies and the domain registries have committed to continuing this working relationship beyond the pilot program. Time will tell if the continued joint effort reduces the unlawful sale of opioids online and in turn, minimizes the risks associated with the opioid crisis.
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In this final post of our blog series on the substantial changes to the regulations implementing the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the Stark Law), we cover change to (i) key Stark Law terminology, and (ii) the scope and application of the Stark Law exceptions. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) finalized new definitions for various key terms used in the Stark Law regulations as well as revisions to existing terms that are generally intended to provide more certainty and flexibility. This post discusses a few of the highlights, but the final regulations contain many others.
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On January 19, 2021, significant changes to the regulations implementing the Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the Physician Self-Referral Law (commonly known as the Stark Law) went into effect. The sweeping changes come through two final rules – one issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) addressing changes to the AKS and the Beneficiary Inducements CMP, and one issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) addressing changes to the Stark Law.

In this fifth installment of our blog series covering the changes, we dive into (i) the new AKS safe harbor and Stark Law exception for cybersecurity technology and related services, and (ii) the significant changes to the existing safe harbor and exception for electronic health records (EHR) technology.
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, telehealth providers have seen a dramatic increase in demand for their services along with a number of temporary regulatory measures aimed at expanding telehealth access to more patient populations. In this post, we outline some important developments that will bring greater certainty to telehealth providers and suggest that expanded access to telehealth is here to stay.
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Recent Amendments to the FDA Laws Attempt to Clarify and Improve Existing Systems

January 28, 2021 | Blog | By Joanne Hawana, Elizabeth Conti

Although the Biden-Harris Administration that assumed control of the Executive Branch on January 20, 2021 immediately ordered a regulatory freeze of new or pending rules while the new administration gets its bearings (as reported by our colleagues in this post), several important changes to the laws enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were recently enacted by Congress. As legislative actions, those changes are of course unaffected by President Biden’s regulatory freeze and so we thought worth a summary to ensure our readers are up to speed on the large amount of activity that occurred in the final weeks of the 116th Congress and the Trump Administration.
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With a notably sharply worded opinion, the Fifth Circuit recently vacated over $4.3 million in penalties levied against the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (M.D. Anderson) by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for a series of alleged HIPAA violations. The case stems from three separate incidents that occurred between 2012 and 2013. In two instances, M.D. Anderson workforce members lost unencrypted protected health information (PHI), while the third incident involved the theft of a faculty member’s laptop also containing unencrypted PHI. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit concluded that HHS’s civil monetary penalties order against M.D. Anderson was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law, vacating the penalties and pointedly criticizing the agency’s actions and arguments in this matter.

Beyond its harsh words for HHS, this opinion is notable for calling into question some longstanding HHS enforcement practices and interpretations of the HIPAA regulations. The opinion also makes clear that regulated entities should check the math when HHS levies a fine. Although limited in its precedential authority, the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, at the very least, gives HIPAA-regulated entities some new food for thought if faced with an HHS enforcement action.
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HIPAA Amendments and Other Trump Regulatory Actions on Hold

January 21, 2021 | Blog | By Dianne Bourque, Cassandra Paolillo

In the waning days of the Trump administration, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) announced a number of new initiatives, including proposed HIPAA amendments, discussed here, and a very recent COVID-19 related Notice of Enforcement Discretion. Under the Notice of Enforcement Discretion, published on January 19, 2021, OCR announced that it would not impose penalties for non-compliance with HIPAA on covered entities making good faith use of online or web-based applications for COVID-19 vaccination scheduling. With the swearing in of President Biden, these and other regulatory initiatives, including all regulations that have been sent to the Office of the Federal Register, but not yet published, are to be withdrawn until a department or agency head appointed by President Biden reviews and approves the rule.
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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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