On Monday, the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) announced an enforcement action against Bayfront Health St. Petersburg (“Bayfront”) for allegedly failing to provide a mother timely access to her unborn child’s prenatal medical records. The enforcement action is noteworthy in that it marks OCR’s first

HHS’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (“SAMHSA”) proposed updated rules to clarify the scope of perceived barriers to sharing information regarding treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) among providers, with research entities, and for law enforcement purposes. The proposed changes to the 42 C.F.R. Part 2 (“Part 2”) regulations appear in two Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRMs”), which are also summarized in a Fact Sheet. These proposals are part of HHS’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, an agency-wide effort to remove regulatory obstacles to care coordination and information-sharing. HHS is anticipated to release proposed rules on HIPAA, the Physician Self-Referral Law and Anti-Kickback Statute by the end of 2019 as part of this effort as well.

The proposed Part 2 updates could have significant impacts on how health care providers, researchers, and health technology companies protect and share SUD information with each other, so interested parties should submit comments on the NPRMs before the deadlines, and prepare to submit comments in response to HHS’s other Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care efforts in the coming months.

Background


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Electronic health record (EHR) vendor Allscripts recently disclosed on an earnings call that it has reached a tentative agreement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to pay $145 million to settle an investigation into the regulatory compliance of one of its recent acquisitions, Practice Fusion. This news, combined with DOJ’s other recent successful enforcement actions against EHR companies, represents a trend and should be a warning that compliance is a priority when it comes health IT. We anticipate that there will be more Anti-Kickback, HIPAA, and False Claims Act cases against similar health IT targets in the pipeline.

Allscripts acquired Practice Fusion, also an electronic health record company, in February 2018. According to the company’s public SEC filing from the first quarter of 2019, the investigation “relates to both the certification Practice Fusion obtained in connection with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Electronic Health Record Incentive Program and Practice Fusion’s compliance with the Anti-Kickback Statute and HIPAA.”


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A patient has an emergency and goes to a hospital she knows is in her plan’s network. She receives treatment. She leaves the hospital. Weeks later, she receives a medical bill for tens of thousands of dollars. Unbeknownst to her, some or all of her treating doctors were out-of-network.

This all-too-common story has contributed to a significant medical debt crisis in this country, and has captured the attention of policymakers on all sides of the political spectrum—leading to the rare circumstance of executive and legislative alignment and the potential for bipartisan legislative action.

Proponents of price transparency hope that it will improve competition and allow patients to better understand their financial responsibility ahead of receiving services. The idea is that disclosing prices to individuals will incentivize them to “shop around” for health care services, which may drive down costs. On the other hand, opponents of price transparency argue that releasing such information could compromise bargaining leverage between third party payers and providers, and have the effect of driving up prices since information exchanges in concentrated markets can lead to tacit coordination that’s difficult to detect and punish under the antitrust laws.


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The HHS Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) closed out the month of April with some updates to HIPAA civil monetary penalty (“CMP”) limits and clarifications to OCR’s stance on the Privacy Rule’s application to transfers of electronic protected health information (“ePHI”) to third-party applications and application programming interfaces (“APIs”).

Differential CMP Caps Based on Enforcement Discretion

Under the current HIPAA Enforcement Rule, HHS employs a four-tier level of culpability scale in line with the HITECH Act. These four tiers correspond to appropriate CMPs ranges for violations by covered entities and business associates of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. These penalty tiers are adjusted for inflation pursuant to the cost-of-living formula set forth in the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015.

For instance, if a person did not know and, by exercising reasonable diligence, would not have known that the person violated the applicable HIPAA provision, the CMP range the person could be levied was $100-$50,000 for each identical violation, up to a maximum of $1.5 million for all such violations annually (before adjusted for inflation). The $1.5 million annual cap on CMPs for HIPAA violations applied across all four tiers, even though the minimum penalties for each tier increased in amount.

Since HHS began using this four-tier structure, however, there has been debate about whether the HITECH Act mandates different annual CMP caps for each of the tiers. OCR’s April 30, 2019 Federal Register Notice changes HHS’s prior position on this, and now imposes the following annual caps on CMPs for HIPAA violations:.


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On March 27, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a $1.65 million competition to accelerate development of AI solutions in health care. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Health Outcomes challenge seeks innovative, AI-driven solutions that can predict unplanned hospital and skilled nursing facility (SNF) admissions and adverse events.

The challenge is a

In order to move health care organizations towards consistency in mitigating important cybersecurity threats to the health care sector, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) published multiple guidance documents on best practices for health care organizations to reduce cybersecurity risks (“HHS Cyber Guidance”). The HHS Cyber Guidance is the result of HHS’ public-private partnership with more than 150 cybersecurity and health care experts. While compliance is voluntary, this guidance serves as direction to health care entities on important practices that should be considered and implemented to reduce risk.

Why HHS has published this guidance


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The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed a rule to allow Medicare Advantage plans to expand telehealth benefit coverage. (See alert for more detail) This proposed rule implements the statutory provisions in section 50323 the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. What you might not know, however, is that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 is only one of many legislative vehicles by which advocates for telehealth expansion have been able to move the needle definitively in their favor during this session of Congress.

Over the past two years, Congress has shown its support for the utilization of telehealth by introducing forty-one bills that, if passed, would require Medicare to reimburse providers for their use of telehealth to treat numerous health conditions such as stroke diagnosis, mental health, chronic care management and opioid addiction treatment. Of note, the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic (CHRONIC) Care Act of 2017 was the predecessor bill that passed out of the Senate in September of 2017 and became law on February 9, 2018 as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.
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CMS has finalized the adoption of multiple CPT codes in the CY 2019 PFS that create more opportunities for providers and digital health companies to collaborate on chronic care management business models in the fee-for-service market.

Virtual Check-Ins

CMS finalized the creation of a new code to reimburse providers for brief “check-in” services conducted using communications technology by creating HCPCS code G2012, defined as “[b]rief communication technology-based service, e.g. virtual check-in.”
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Yesterday, the FDA released draft guidance on the management of cybersecurity in medical devices submitted to the agency for premarket review. Noting that cybersecurity threats to the healthcare sector have increased in number and severity, the FDA offered new recommendations for device design, labeling, and documentation that medical device manufacturers will need to consider during premarket submission processes.

The guidance comes shortly after the FDA’s launch of its Medical Device Cybersecurity Playbook, which provides a framework for healthcare delivery organizations to use in preparing for and responding to cybersecurity threats against patient medical devices.

Given rapid changes in technology and increasing innovation in the digital health market, the guidance intends to decrease the risk of cyberattacks that could render medical devices inoperable and potentially harm patients. Comments on the draft guidance are due on March 18, 2019.
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