COVID-19 was an unexpected pandemic that hit the United States, causing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to rush to make accommodations for the states. States administer their Medicaid programs following a state plan and under the regulation of federal rules. With approval, states are allowed to amend their state plan and apply for waivers to improve the effectiveness of their Medicaid program. During COVID-19, the Trump Administration made available for states to apply for 1115 waivers, creating a new section labeling 1115(a), the 1135 waiver, and Appendix K to amend 1915(c) waivers for national emergencies. As of May 2020, CMS reported over 200 approved waivers across multiple states.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), older adults and people with severe underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from the COVID-19 illness. For this reason, among others, long-term care facilities have been hit particularly hard by the virus. Although it was difficult to be prepared for this pandemic, there are concerns that many long-term care facilities did not have proper preventative measures in place in even before COVID-19 became an issue. Because of this, long-term care facilities have become hot spots for the viruses spread. As states and the federal government continue to monitor long-term care facilities’ compliance with local and federal laws, regulatory agencies are now also faced with added pressure to not only slow the spread of COVID-19 within the facilities, but also to control the legal environment in the anticipated aftermath of the outbreak.
On October 9, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule to modernize and clarify the regulations that interpret the Medicare physician self-referral law (often called the “Stark Law”), which has not been significantly updated since it was enacted in 1989. As CMS tries to reconstruct the healthcare field, it is imperative for compliance programs to prepare for the changes in regulations to come. The following discussion provides a brief overview of the proposed changes but is not an exhaustive list of all rulemakings related to the physician self-referral law.
Workplace wellness programs — efforts to get workers to lose weight, eat better, stress less and sleep more — are an $8 billion industry in the U.S. Recently, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a pilot project for states to implement health-contingent wellness programs in the individual market. The project is part of a mandate under the Affordable Care Act that added a provision to the Public Health Service Act calling for health-contingent wellness programs to be tested in the individual market through a pilot project operated by HHS, the Department of Labor and the Treasury Department.
On September 5, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released its final rule with comments on Program Integrity Enhancements to the Provider Enrollment Process (“ The Program Integrity Enhancements”). The final rule gives CMS the power to revoke Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollments of providers or suppliers who have an “affiliation” with previously sanctioned entities, even if those providers and suppliers aren’t directly violating any existing rules themselves. CMS says that this new authority will help to “stop fraud before it happens.”
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) jointly create national standards for electronic transactions, code sets, and unique identifiers. The ACA introduced Administrative Simplification provisions in 2010 and now the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has launched a Compliance Review Program to ensure that HIPAA covered entities are abiding by the Administrative Simplification rules.
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.
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”).
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.
Protected Health Information is seeing a surge of breaches on the cyber security front due to contractor error. It’s also impacting the most consumers in comparison to other data breaches and, in some cases, has the power to cause chaos in national infrastructure. Advances in technology and compliance measures can stem the tide and protect the most valuable information in consumers lives.