Although the nation’s longest-ever government shutdown has ended, agencies forced to furlough employees and shutter temporarily are still facing the effects of the funding gap. On January 25th, President Trump agreed to sign a continuing resolution that will reopen and fund the federal government through February 15th. The government reboot means that the roughly 800,000 federal employees furloughed or forced to work without pay should expect to receive their back pay soon, but the thirty-five-day suspension of government functions comes with significant aftershock. While various regulatory agencies scramble to address their backlog of work, life for Americans who interact with these agencies has been hindered indefinitely.
The Common Rule, the Federal policy protecting human subjects of biomedical and behavioral research, was published in 1991. The process to update the policy has taken place over the last several years, leading to the final rule revisions which were effective as of July 19, 2018. After January 20, 2019, institutions are now permitted to implement the entirety of the revised Common Rule. Any institution receiving funds, supervision, or review from any of the twenty Federal Departments and Agencies that have codified the Common Rule must implement this revised rule in their compliance programs.
The state of Washington is proposing new water quality regulations in an effort to encourage growth to the salmon population. The campaign against the dams in the Columbia and Snake river basins has been fought for decades and continually struggles to balance the environmental impacts with industry and energy. This regulation is the newest strategy to attempt to strike a balance between the environmental concerns and the industry concerns. Further, as more attention is given to the dwindling population of killer whales, many are calling this an emergency requiring immediate action. This action is a timely response to the recent calls to action.
In December 2018, Dr. Christopher Duntsch lost his appeal and the court upheld his life sentence. The name may not sound familiar, but to the medical community in Dallas, Texas, Christopher Duntsch represents what happens when every part of the medical regulatory system fails to protect patients. Christopher Duntsch was given the nickname “Dr. Death” in November 2016 when the DMagazine ran a cover story on him and his victims. In 2018, Wondery produced a six-part podcast series named “Dr. Death” detailing Duntsch’s educational and medical history and the acts that led him to incarceration.
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.
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”).
New data privacy regulations entail questioning both current and future technologies. Recently, Amazon has introduced a store concept that eliminates everyone’s least favorite things about shopping, long lines and small talk. Amazon Go is the grocery store of the future and these stores allow consumers to walk in, pick up the items that they need, and then walk right back out. That’s it. No long lines, no cashiers, no shopping carts. However, as great as this concept seems, there are still concerns from a data privacy standpoint as Amazon needs to collect personal data from its consumers in order to be able to lawfully execute these checkout-less stores.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (“the Parity Act”) is a federal civil rights and consumer protection law. The Parity Act prohibits most public and private insurance plans from imposing more restrictive standards on mental health (“MH”) and substance use disorder (“SUD”) benefits than they impose on similar medical/surgical benefits. However, ten years since its passage, states have failed to appropriately enforce the Parity Act.
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.