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
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.
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:.
As we await proposed HHS regulations on interoperability and patient access to data, and as more companies than ever before are collecting and using data to power advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to improve health care quality and delivery, it is important to understand the scope and limitation of protections and the applicability of the HIPAA Privacy Rule.
Patients, providers and caregivers now have access to a wide array of devices and applications to manage and track patient health, improve treatment adherence, and better coordinate care. Large technology companies, athletic gear manufacturers, and others are entering a rapidly growing consumer health technology market. They are developing new technologies including tracking apps, wearables, and social networks that are increasingly integrated into patients’ daily lives. With an estimated 86.7 million U.S. consumers owning wearable devices by 2019, patients are generating billions of data points that provide insight into their health. Yet many of these companies are not subject to existing privacy protections under HIPAA, creating a significant gap in consumer protections.
At the same time, HHS is pushing for greater interoperability and patient access to data to address a challenge that remains widespread even after the investment of billions of federal dollars into the adoption of electronic health records. Agencies are encouraging and mandating easier availability of electronic health data, through current and anticipated CMS and ONC regulations and through a variety of government initiatives such as: 1) Blue Button and MyHealtheData; 2) incentivizing the adoption of open APIs; 3) developing new fee-for-service payment policies regarding remote monitoring and virtual care reimbursement; and 4) launching Sync for Science, a technical standard for facilitating patient-mediated data exchange for research. Consumers and companies alike seek guidance on the implications of collecting, storing, maintaining, and commercializing personal health data.…
CMS has issued its 2019 Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule, containing highly anticipated new reimbursement policies for telehealth, remote monitoring, and other uses of digital tools, as well as updates to health IT requirements in the Quality Payment Program, with a stronger focus on patient access to health information. Comments are due September 10 at 5pm.
Our healthcare system is in the midst of a fundamental shift toward value-based care to drive down costs and improve the quality of care. We won’t be able to achieve that goal without technology that allows providers to collect and use health data and puts patients front and center. Patient access to clinical and claims data is essential. When patients have access to their own information, they can better understand their condition and feel empowered to ask questions and shape their own care plan.
Congress and the federal government are pushing to liberate data from within the healthcare system and to promote patient access to health information. However, it is equally important to focus on the flow of data from the patient back into the healthcare system. The patient – who is gathering data at home, managing her condition, and making day-to-day decisions that impact her health – holds information that is critical to treatment decisions and outcome improvements.…
Building on momentum from Administrator Seema Verma’s announcement of the MyHealtheData initiative at HIMSS 2018, CMS has published more clues as to future action to liberate health information for patients.
CMS announced important changes to Medicare reimbursement for remote patient monitoring and telemedicine that can help accelerate adoption and use of these digital health tools. These changes are implemented through two rules released this week that will take effect January 1, 2018. Understanding these rules can help you incorporate these tools into clinical practice and can positively affect the business model for technology developers and innovators.
What are these new rules and do they affect me?
The 2018 Quality Payment Program Final Rule provides policy updates to the Quality Payment Program (QPP), which was established by the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) and will be entering its second year. MACRA offers two “tracks” for eligible clinicians to take as they move toward value-based care:
- Participation in QPP and its scoring, or
- Participation in an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (APM).
The majority of Medicare payments are still tied to fee-for-service, but HHS has set a goal of moving to 50 percent of Medicare payments for alternative payment models by 2018. For previous coverage of QPP proposals, visit our summary here.
The 2018 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule addresses revised payment policies for the Medicare physician fee schedule. Any provisions in the PFS rule typically apply to fee-for-service type providers.…