Payers, Providers, and Patients – Oh My! Is Crowell & Moring’s biweekly health care podcast, discussing legal and regulatory issues that affect health care entities’ in-house counsel, executives, and investors. In this “deep dive” episode, hosts Payal Nanavati and Joe Records talk to Barbara Ryland about benefits under Medicare Part C.

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On October 3, President Trump signed an Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors (EO), directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop various proposals to “protect and improve the Medicare” program as an alternative to the Medicare for All Act.

The EO aims to:

• Expand Medicare

In a long-awaited opinion, on September 9, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in United States v. Aseracare, Inc., et al, unanimously vacated AseraCare’s False Claims Act (FCA) victory and remanded the case for further proceedings.[1] While this might seem a victory only for the Government at first blush, the opinion contains key takeaways for defendants that will likely reach far beyond just this case.

Importantly, even though the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of summary judgment to AseraCare, it affirmed the district court’s conclusion that a clinical judgment of terminal illness warranting hospice benefits under Medicare cannot be deemed false, for purposes of the FCA, when there is only a reasonable disagreement between medical experts as to the accuracy of that conclusion, with no other evidence to prove the falsity of the assessment. The Eleventh Circuit also concluded, however, that the Government should have been allowed to rely on the entire record, not just the trial record, to prove otherwise. The Government was precluded from doing so, the Court found, due to an earlier decision by the district court to bifurcate proceedings into two phases: one on falsity, and the other on the remaining elements of the FCA.

In affirming the district court’s holding regarding clinical judgment, the Eleventh Circuit remarked that it appears to be the “first circuit court to consider the precise question at issue here,”[2] and is an extraordinary move that provides hospice facilities, hospitals, and providers more generally with a degree of assurance that a reasonable disagreement between clinicians in a courtroom, without other evidence of objective falsehood, does not create a jury question and cannot serve as the basis for an action under the FCA: “While there is no question that clinical judgments must be tethered to a patient’s valid medical records, it is equally clear that the law is designed to give physicians meaningful latitude to make informed judgments without fear that those judgments will be second-guessed after the fact by laymen in a liability proceeding.”[3]


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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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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

Nearly 20,000 comments have been submitted in response to the Department of Health and Human Services January 31, 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking eliminating discount safe harbor protection for reductions in price to prescription pharmaceutical products (or rebates) provided by manufacturers to plan sponsors under Medicare Part D and Medicaid managed care organizations (MCOs), whether negotiated by the plan or by pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) or paid through a PBM to the plan or Medicaid MCO. Most of the comments appear to be relatively short, text box comments submitted by individuals through patient or business advocacy groups.  The following is a very high level summary of the several hundred comments posted (so far) from health plans, manufacturers, pharmacies, their respective associations, and policy oriented groups:
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Last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced significant policy changes for Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D programs. On April 1, 2019, CMS released the calendar year 2020 Rate Announcement and Call Letter, and on April 5, 2019, CMS release the unpublished version of a final rule revising the MA and Part D program regulations for 2020 and 2021 (scheduled to be published April 16, 2019). These documents include many important policy changes for MA plans—including opportunities to offer broadened supplemental benefits packages and expanded telehealth services.

Supplemental Benefits for the Chronically Ill

Traditionally, CMS has interpreted section 1853(a) of the Social Security Act to allow MA plans to offer supplemental benefits (items or services not covered by original Medicare) when they are “primarily health related,” offered uniformly to all enrollees, and result in the MA plan incurring a non-zero direct medical cost. “Primarily health related” means an item or service that is “used to diagnose, compensate for physical impairments, acts to ameliorate the functional/psychological impact of injuries or health conditions, or reduces avoidable emergency and healthcare utilization.” For 2019, CMS introduced new flexibility into the uniformity requirement by allowing MA plans to offer supplemental benefits to some—but not all—vulnerable enrollees.
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On Nov. 29, 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced several amendments to policies on individual accountability set forth in the 2015 Yates Memo. As a result, companies facing FCA actions—especially defendants in health care cases—should consider following three strategy tips:  (1) Establish clear benchmarks for cooperation.  (2) Advocate for individual releases.  And (3)

In its recent notice of proposed rulemaking setting policy for Medicare Advantage (MA) and the Prescription Drug Program (PDP) for calendar year 2020, CMS announced that it would establish extrapolation as a method to be used in risk adjustment validation (RADV) audits, and further, that it would not make any adjustments to account for errors in Medicare fee for service data in determining recovery amounts.

CMS uses a risk adjustment process to modify MA plan payments to better reflect the relative risk of each plan’s enrollees. Payments to each MA plan are adjusted based on risk scores that reflect enrollees’ health status (categorized into Hierarchical Condition Categories (HCCs)) and demographic characteristics derived from member claims data. To counteract incentives that a plan might have to over-report enrollee diagnoses, CMS emphasizes that all diagnoses submitted to enhance risk must be documented in a medical record, and uses RADV audits to ensure that medical record documentation exists, and thus, that payments to MAOs accurately reflect the level of risk assumed.
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In the most recent technical changes made to Part C and Part D plans for 2019, CMS codified the star ratings methodology in regulations. Now, CMS is proposing changes to these regulations, such as new definitions to clarify the meaning of terminology used in describing the star ratings methodology. In addition, CMS is proposing several changes to improve program quality and accessibility of the Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D Prescription Drug Program (PDP) Plan Quality Rating for measures other than Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS).

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