Recognizing the need to empower healthcare providers to reach those most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights recently issued a notification announcing that it will not impose penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA Rules against those healthcare entities who utilize video and voice applications to provide telehealth services.
During this national emergency, covered healthcare providers can use any non-public facing application to communicate with patients, such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger ...
On July 22, 2019, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Wilson v. CNN.1 The primary question before the court concerned the application of the anti-SLAPP statute, Civil Procedure Code Section 425.16, to employment, discrimination, and retaliation claims. The factual scenario before the court involved a journalist who alleged that his employer, CNN, denied him promotions, gave him unfavorable assignments, and ultimately fired him for unlawful discriminatory and retaliatory reasons.2 The employer responded by contending that the journalist was ...
On May 7, 2019, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc., et al., where plaintiff was a producer at CNN who sued the media giant for employment discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and defamation after he was terminated for alleged plagiarism. Wilson is of particular importance to the healthcare community, including hospitals, medical staffs, peer review committees, and practitioners, because it will impact the application of anti-SLAPP Special Motions to Strike under Civil Procedure Code Section 425.16 in suits ...
In a decision affecting California hospitals, medical groups, medical staffs, and physicians, the California First District Court of Appeal has concluded that a physician’s notice and hearing rights apply to situations where a hospital directs a medical group of a closed department to remove a physician from the hospital schedule.
In Economy v. Sutter East Bay Hospitals, Sutter Hospital operated a closed anesthesia department pursuant to a contract with East Bay Anesthesiology Medical Group (East Bay Group). The exclusive contract required all physicians providing ...
On September 19, 2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the Patient’s Right to Know Act of 2018 (SB 1448), which will require practitioners to notify their patients when they are placed on probation on or after July 1, 2019 for the following offenses:
- The commission of any act of sexual abuse, misconduct, or relations with a patient or client;
- Drug or alcohol abuse directly resulting in harm to patients or to the extent that such use impairs the ability of the practitioner to practice safely;
- Criminal conviction directly involving harm to patient health; or
- Inappropriate ...
There is a host of new, ever changing, and conflicting guidelines from a multitude of regulators and academic societies. This evolving and uncertain landscape is making the life of a practicing pain physician in the midst of today’s nationwide opiate epidemic…painful.
Here are 10 tips to help you avoid Medical Board discipline when prescribing opiates:1
1. Don’t Prescribe Opiates Unless…
- The patient has exhausted all reasonable alternatives
- There is medical indication
- Recently documented objective evidence of/consistent with patient’s pain complaints
- You have ...
Starting October 2, 2018, health care practitioners authorized to prescribe, order, administer, or furnish a controlled substance must query, or consult, the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database and run a Patient Activity Report (PAR) on each patient the first time the patient is prescribed, ordered, or administered a Schedule II-IV controlled substance. First time is defined as the initial occurrence in which a health care practitioner intends to prescribe, order, administer, or furnish a controlled substance to a patient and has ...
On January, 1, 2018, The Joint Commission’s (TJC) new and revised pain assessment and management standards go into effect for TJC accredited hospitals. The changes to the standards stem from a review commenced by The Joint Commission in 2016 to bring the preceding accreditation standards into alignment with leading practices in pain assessment and management, and the safe use of opioids. In light of these standards, hospitals and their medical staffs should review their current policies, protocols, and procedures to ensure their practices comply with the new TJC requirements.
A new California law (AB 72) limits the amount that out-of-network surgeons and other health care professionals may bill patients for covered non-emergency services provided at a contracted facility, such as an ambulatory surgery center. California’s surprise medical bill law went into effect on July 1, 2017. It is intended to prevent a consumer from receiving an unexpected medical bill from a non-contracted provider as follows:
- A patient who is enrolled (Enrollee);
- In a health care service plan or health insurance policy (Plan);
- Receives health care services covered by the Plan;
- From an individual health professional (Professional);
- Who does not have a contract with the Plan; and
- Services are performed at (or as a result of) a contracted health facility (Facility).
In such circumstances, the Enrollee may be billed no more than the same cost-sharing amount that the Enrollee would pay a contracted Professional for the same service (in-network cost sharing amount). At the time of payment, the Plan must inform the Enrollee and the non-contracted Professional of the in-network cost-sharing amount owed by the Enrollee.
Recently, the Medical Board of California circulated an open letter, known as a Prescriber Guidance Letter to all practitioners in California who prescribe opiates. The letter was authored by a statewide workgroup on Prescription Opioid Misuse and Overdose Prevention. The workgroup includes the Medical Board of California, the Board of Pharmacy, the California Department of Public Health, the DEA, DMV, California Department of Justice, California Health and Human Services, California Society of Addition Medicine, and California Healthcare Foundation, among others.
On May 10, 2017, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced an agreement whereby Memorial Hermann Health System (MHHS) will pay a $2.4 million penalty for releasing a patient’s name in a press release. According to the resolution agreement, in September 2015, a patient at an MHHS clinic presented an allegedly fraudulent identification card to office staff. The staff notified law enforcement and the patient was arrested. Although notification to law enforcement did not violate the HIPAA rules, it wa a violation to include the patient’s ...
A proposed rule intended to stabilize the individual and small group insurance markets was issued on February 17, 2017, only a week after the Senate confirmed Tom Price as the Secretary of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS). Although the proposed rule is intended to stabilize these markets, it may make it more difficult for individuals to obtain and maintain health insurance coverage, thereby reducing the number of people who are insured.
This is a turbulent time for American healthcare. Within weeks after the publication of the proposed rule, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal and replace key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make significant changes to federal funding for Medicaid. On Friday, March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill before a vote. In the aftermath of the bill’s withdrawal, President Trump predicted that if it were left in place, ObamaCare would explode. As recently as Sunday, April 2, however, the President tweeted that talks of repeal and replace of the ACA were ongoing and would continue until a deal was struck. On Tuesday, April 4, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republican lawmakers are having productive talks on a new healthcare reform bill.
This on again, off again, action to attack the ACA leaves a great deal of uncertainty for healthcare providers. That uncertainty is compounded by regulatory action that will affect the ACA in ways less visible to the public. Apparently, Secretary Price is well aware of HHS' options to make regulatory changes. According to the Chicago Tribune, he remarked during the House Appropriations Committee hearing on his agency’s proposed budget that "[f]ourteen hundred and forty-two times the ACA said 'the secretary shall' or 'the secretary may.'
The Anti-Kickback Statute
Those in the business of providing healthcare services to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are all too familiar with the federal Anti-kickback Statute (AKS). Among other dreadful sanctions, it imposes criminal penalties on those individuals or entities that knowingly and willfully offer, pay, solicit, or receive remuneration in order to induce or reward the referral of business reimbursable under federal healthcare programs. A violation of the AKS is a felony punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to five years. An offense may also result in the imposition of civil monetary penalties, government program exclusion, and liability under the federal False Claims Act. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the authority, however, to protect certain provider arrangements and payment practices under the AKS. To that end, HHS has established safe harbors in various areas. While compliance with a safe harbor is not mandatory, healthcare providers and others may voluntarily seek to comply with safe harbors so that they may have substantial assurance that their business practices do not violate the AKS.
A New Safe Harbor
On January 20, 2017, a new safe harbor became available for local transportation services furnished by healthcare providers to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  The safe harbor protects an offer of free or discounted local transportation services when paid for by an eligible entity. An eligible entity may be a direct provider of healthcare services or one that arranges for the provision of healthcare services to patients, such as a health plan or clinically integrated network. The definition of an eligible entity excludes organizations that primarily supply healthcare items rather than services, such as a durable medical equipment suppliers or pharmacies. However, entities that primarily provide services, but also provide items, such as a hospital, may provide patients with transportation to the hospital for items or services provided by the hospital (such as for obtaining items at the hospital’s on-site pharmacy).
The safe harbor is available for two types of transportation. First, the safe harbor protects an offer to provide transportation of an established patient to or from an eligible entity for medically necessary items or services. An established patient is a person who has contacted the eligible entity to schedule an appointment or had a previous appointment with the eligible entity furnishing the transportation.
Second, the safe harbor protects certain types of shuttle services that are generally available to the public, as well as patients on a non-discriminatory basis.
(Updated March 11, 2017) On February 3, 2017, the Medical Board of California (MBC) published the much-anticipated 12th Edition of its Manual of Model Disciplinary Orders and Disciplinary Guidelines (Guidelines). Drafts of this latest edition had been slugging through the approval process since mid-2015.
The most notable modification is to Standard Condition #33 (Non-practice While On Probation). Under the 11th Edition, the MBC defined nonpractice as any period of time respondent is not practicing medicine in California…for at least 40 hours in a calendar month in direct ...
On January 19, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement which would resolve allegations that competing ophthalmologists violated federal antitrust laws when they refused to negotiate contracts with MCS Advantage, Inc. (MCS), a Medicare Advantage Plan, and Eye Management of Puerto Rico (Eye Management), MCS’s network administrator.
According to the complaint, the charges arise from an arrangement between Eye Management and MCS entered into in April, 2014. Eye Management agreed to create and manage a network of ophthalmologists to provide services to MCS enrollees and to do so at a cost savings to MCS. Eye Management planned to replace MCS’s existing contract with each individual ophthalmologist with a new contract between Eye Management and the ophthalmologist at a lower reimbursement rate. In early June 2014, Eye Management sent a proposed contract to every ophthalmologist contracted with MCS at the time. These contracts offered payments at rates that were about 10% lower, on average, than the rates under the existing contracts between MCS and each ophthalmologist.
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