On November 16, 2018, the Department of Education through its Office for Civil Rights, opened a series of proposed regulations for public comment. Interested parties anticipated the release of the regulations for some time, following the Department of Education’s 2017 rescission of the Obama administration’s 2011 “Dear Colleague”. The 2011 letter required educational institutions receiving federal funds to use a preponderance of the evidence standard in adjudicating institutional sexual assault proceedings, among other things. The recent proposal makes that standard permissive, rather than mandatory, while stressing that institutional proceedings must preserve a presumption of innocence on the part of the accused. Though many groups applaud the new proposals, others raise concerns that the proposals stand to harm victims of sexual assault.
Under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and the Army Corps of Engineers promulgated the Waters of the United States rule, which defined “Waters of the United States” to include small bodies of water, such as rivers and wetlands. However, in early 2018, the Trump administration suspended the rule to re-assess the definition. By the end of 2018, the EPA and the United States Department of Army released a new definition of “Waters of the United States,” restricting the definition to traditional navigable waters and their tributaries, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments and wetlands that are adjacent to water specifically covered by the rule.
In September 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) announced a new policy that provides for the release of a list of retailers that have received a food subject to recall. In the past, the FDA did not release such information because the agency deemed it confidential commercial information. The lack of information on the part of the FDA has been a huge detriment to the public. Prior to the new guidance, the public would only find out information about the particular food that was being recalled, not where this recalled food was available for purchase. The public was told just to stop purchasing that recalled food, whether it be romaine lettuce or beef, even if there were retailers who were selling non-contaminated products. This procedure not only hurts the public but also has a huge financial effect on those retailers who are not selling contaminated or recalled products. The FDA has effectuated a new guidance because they have found that such information is necessary to enforce a recall and to ensure public safety.
On Christmas Day 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street debuted to rave reviews and quickly became director Martin Scorsese’s top-grossing film. Audiences loved Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jordan Belfort, an aggressive stockbroker who rapidly rises to wealth through smooth talking and high-pressure sales tactics. The film is filled with outrageous partying, unethical Wall Street stockbrokers and bankers, and culminates in the arrest of Belfort and the downfall of his criminal enterprise. While certain scenes from the film were arguably embellished, the film is based on a true story. The more amazing true story, however, is that The Wolf of Wall Street was funded and produced through a massive fraud that makes Jordan Belfort’s escapades look miniscule. On November 1, 2018, Timothy Leissner, a Goldman Sachs partner, plead guilty to conspiring to launder money and violating foreign antibribery laws for his role in a massive scandal that involves the prime minister of Malaysia, Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, and even Paris Hilton.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) efforts to strengthen the nation’s health care through its oversight of health care programs, including Medicare, has continuously made strides to ensure its beneficiaries receive the quality and affordable health care needed. The U.S. has struggled with the quality of care provided in nursing homes to the most vulnerable citizens for years. Nursing homes have continued to remain highly regulated, but the U.S. government has failed to hold the nursing homes industry accountable for the poor quality of care provided. America’s shortage of nurses has contributed to the poor quality of care that leads to life threatening problems of Medicare beneficiaries living in nursing homes. Furthermore, despite the nursing home industry’s large profitability, and the level of hands on care that the nurses provide, the pay for staff nurses in nursing homes is less than other major employers. Thus, CMS has implemented regulations to guarantee nursing homes are properly staffed in order to improve resident care and safety by monitoring payroll-based data and holding nursing homes accountable for poor care by minimizing reimbursement for conditions that could be averted with better oversight.
Following a public meeting in October, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agreed to share joint regulation of cell-culture “meat” technology. This decision came on the tail end of public squabble between the two regulatory bodies regarding the oversight of cell-culture, or lab-produced meat. The regulatory framework for this type of quasi-agriculture has been unclear, especially after the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology initiative that attempted to coordinate the roles of various agencies involved in emerging biotechnology. The new, definitive regulatory structure has been thoroughly praised and welcomed by top cell-culture meat companies, who have expressed open frustration with the older, confusing framework, claiming that it hindered both consumer protection and technological innovation.
In August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) made an additional focus in its Work Plan for the oversight of nursing facility staffing levels. These changes were made in the light of backlash from a July 2018 news article which reported that nearly 1,400 nursing homes had fewer qualified staff on duty than they were required or failed altogether to provide reliable staffing information to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”).
Five years after the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the effects of dismantling Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act are manifesting themselves across the United States. Since 2013, several states have passed laws that have the ability to suppress voters. Voters in Georgia and South Dakota have recently filed suits claiming the state’s laws and practices in the 2018 election amounted to voter suppression.
On September 7, 2018, the United States District Court in the District of Columbia (“D.C. District Court”) vacated Medicare’s overpayment “report and return” rule as applied to Medicare Advantage Organizations (“MAOs”). The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) created the requirement to report and return overpayments. The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) issued rules to provide definitions that the PPACA did not define, create a procedure, payment options and timeframes. MAOs may no longer need to comply with CMS’ overpayment rule, but the PPACA remains intact. Providers who service Medicare beneficiaries will need to conduct the same analysis in order to comply with the PPACA “report and return” requirement.