In a decision last week that could affect $12 billion that insurers assert is owed by the federal government, the Federal Circuit decided that HHS was not required to pay amounts required by statute because Congress had repealed or suspended those obligations through riders to appropriations bills. In Moda Health Plan, Inc. v. United States, the Federal Circuit rejected one insurer’s claim that it was statutorily and contractually owed close to $210 million under the government risk corridors program.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) established health benefit exchanges in each state for individuals and small groups to purchase health coverage. Insurers, however, faced significant risk if they offered plans in the exchange, because they lacked reliable data to estimate the cost of providing care for an expanding pool of individuals seeking coverage. To mitigate that risk and discourage insurers from setting higher premiums to offset that risk, the ACA established the risk corridors program.

Under the risk corridors program, participating plans whose costs of coverage exceeded the premiums received would be paid a share of their excess costs by HHS (“payments out”), and plans whose premiums exceeded their costs would pay to HHS a share of their profits (“payments in”). HHS promulgated regulations providing that health plans would receive payments in from HHS or make payments out to HHS in the formulas set forth in the statute. Congress, however, provided in riders to appropriations bills that none of the funds appropriated for HHS in fiscal years 2015 through 2017 could be used for payments under the risk corridors program. The Congressional purpose was to make the risk corridor program budget neutral, so that HHS would not pay out more than it collected under the program. CMS reported that in the three year period of 2014-2016, payments in to HHS fell short of payments out by more than $12 billion. For that reason, HHS paid only prorated portions of the payments out to insurers.

Moda Health Plans sued under the Tucker Act, seeking almost $210 million, constituting the unpaid amounts it claimed it was owed under the risk corridors program under the ACA. Moda argued that the ACA itself obligated HHS to pay insurers the full amount under the risk corridors program, regardless of the amount of payments in, and that HHS breached its contractual agreement to pay the full amount required by the statute. The Federal Circuit rejected both arguments.

The Court agreed with Moda that the ACA obligated the government to pay the full amount of the risk corridors payments, but held that the Congressional appropriations riders effected a suspension of that obligation for each of the relevant years. The Court first held that the statute was mandatory with respect to payments out, and could not be read to require such payments to be budget neutral. Thus, the plain language of the statute created an obligation of the government to pay the full amount for payments out under the risk corridors program.

The Court held, however, that through HHS appropriations riders, Congress repealed or suspended the obligation to make any payments out if they exceeded payments in. Repeals by implication are generally disfavored, but the Court held that the appropriations riders adequately expressed Congress’s intent to suspend payments on the risk corridors program beyond the sum of payments in. Congress clearly indicated its intent to limit the funding of payments out to payments in, thus requiring the risk corridors program to be budget neutral. As a result, no taxpayer funds would be used for the risk corridors payments, and the government would not pay out more than it collected from insurers under the program.

The Federal Circuit also rejected Moda’s claim for HHS’s breach of an implied-in-fact contract. Absent clear indication, legislation and regulation cannot establish the government’s intent to bind itself in a contract. The Court held that the overall scheme of the risk corridors program lacked the trappings of a contractual arrangement.

The Moda Health Plan decision may affect billions of dollars that insurers claim they are owed by the federal government. The Supreme Court may be the next stop for the risk corridors program issues decide by the Federal Circuit, and the Justices may have yet another chance to examine the Affordable Care Act and Congressional intent.

 

Earlier this month the New York State Department of Health released the first results of its recently adopted Medicaid redesign efforts, the Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (“DSRIP”), in four core areas: (1) metric performance, (2) success of projects, (3) total Medicaid spending and (4) managed care expenditures.   The passing scores stem from the collaborative efforts of the Performing Provider Systems comprised of New York hospitals, providers and other key stakeholders.

In April 2014, New York State and the federal government agreed to a DSRIP framework, pumping approximately $8 billion in state health care savings to target Medicaid reforms. The goal of the DSRIP waiver is to reduce patient hospital usage by 25% over 5 years while improving patient-centered care. The program includes $6.42 billion for DSRIP Planning Grants, Provider Incentive Payments, and administrative costs.

The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services did find, however, that New York still needs to show improvement in certain areas, including preventable hospital readmissions and emergency room visits as well as access to timely appointments.

Speaking on the results, Donna Frescatore, the New York State Medicaid Director, said “[a] passing grade on all four of the milestones proves that we are making monumental progress toward improving care for millions of New Yorkers….While we are on a clear path to success, our work is far from over. In the months and years ahead, we will shift our focus toward improving performance metrics and health outcomes as we work to change the culture of health care.”

Even though New York received passing scores on its first report card, the state must continue to demonstrate improvement going forward to avoid financial penalties associated with failing to meet the requisite benchmarks.  It will be interesting to see if New York meets the 25% hospital usage reduction by March 31, 2020, the date the DSRIP waiver ends.

The full report can be found here.

While there has been discussion of the potential proliferation of telemedicine for quite some time, telemedicine is finally positioned to take off thanks to the latest federal budget. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 incorporated the text of the CHRONIC Care Act,[1] which facilitates Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services by – among other things – allowing Medicare accountable care organizations to build broader telehealth benefits into Medicare Advantage plans and expand the use of virtual care for stroke and dialysis patients. While many providers are eager to take the leap into telemedicine, there are still some things to look out for:

Not all states have caught up – while the vast a majority of states have enacted legislation mandating private insurers provide some degree of parity of insurance coverage between in-person and telehealth services, at least a dozen states have enacted no such legislation at all.

Beware of Stark, Anti-Kickback and private inurement violations, as telemedicine often involves complex arrangements between physicians and healthcare facilities. To that end, make sure the terms of any compensation arrangement are commercially reasonable and/or consistent with fair market value. And be vigilant when evaluating market data, as pricing may vary widely due to participants coming into a market at low cost for strategic reasons. Market data may also be impacted by accessibility to healthcare services in certain localities. The Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) has issued Advisory Opinions related to telemedicine compensation arrangements that should be considered when reviewing such arrangements. Additionally, in April of this year OIG issued a report highlighting instances of improper billing for telemedicine services.

One area on which practitioners have particularly set their sights is telemedicine for opioid addiction treatment. However, unlike the popular telemedicine practices of dialysis and stroke treatment, substance abuse treatment via telemedicine has its own set of constraints.

  • Providers of Medication-Assisted Treatment to reduce opioid use disorders have restrictions on the number of patients they may treat at any given time, with a limitation of 30 patients for their first certification year and the opportunity to increase to 100 in the subsequent year upon fulfilment of certain criteria.
  • Additionally, restrictions on a provider’s ability to prescribe certain controlled substances used to treat opioid use disorder over telemedicine exist under both state and federal laws.

In sum, while the CHRONIC Care Act facilitates further foray into the expanding world of telemedicine, there are many pitfalls to be aware of in both ensuring compliance with applicable laws and ensuring the ability to set up a profitable business.  Always consult with an experienced professional before expanding your practice.

[1] The Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act.

The New York State Department of Health (DOH), in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL), recently announced a Request for Applications for the Health Workforce Retraining Initiative (HWRI).  This program was established pursuant to NYS Public Health Law §2807-g and is funded through the State’s Health Care Reform Act.  The 2018-19 Enacted New York State Budget included $9 million for this initiative and DOH anticipates an additional $9 million to be available for this grant in SFY 2019-20.

The DOH is soliciting applications from eligible organizations that seek to train or retrain health industry workers for new or emerging positions in the health care delivery system.  The purpose of this initiative is to:

  • Assist health care workers in the development of new skills to maintain employment and achieve licensing/certification requirements;
  • Enable health care workers to pursue new career opportunities created due to market changes, new employment for displaced health care workers and those at risk of displacement;
  • Provide health care workers with the education and training necessary to utilize emerging health technologies and data analytics to support population health management and delivery of high quality, cost effective care;
  • Address current and future occupational shortages;
  • Provide expertise to support integrated and interdisciplinary team-based care;
  • Meet increased demand for home and community-based long-term care services; and
  • Ensure health care workers can effectuate appropriate care transitions, reduce avoidable hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.

Funding is based on the total amount available in each region and will be awarded on a competitive basis by project and region.  Interested organizations may submit up to 50 applications for multiple projects.  Below please find further information regarding the counties included in this initiative, as well as the amount of funding available per region.

Maximum Funding Levels by Region

Western

Rochester

Central

Utica/ Watertown

Northeastern

Northern Metropolitan

New York City

Long Island

Allegany

Livingston

Broome

Chenango

Albany

Columbia

Bronx

Nassau

Cattaraugus

Monroe

Cayuga

Franklin

Clinton

Delaware

Kings

Suffolk

Chautauqua

Ontario

Chemung

Hamilton

Essex

Dutchess

New York

Erie

Seneca

Cortland

Herkimer

Fulton

Orange

Queens

Genesee

Wayne

Schuyler

Jefferson

Greene

Putnam

Richmond

Niagara

Yates

Steuben

Lewis

Montgomery

Rockland

Orleans

Tioga

Madison

Rensselaer

Sullivan

Wyoming

Tompkins

Oneida

Saratoga

Ulster

Onondaga

Otsego

Schenectady

Westchester

Oswego

Schoharie

St.

Warren

Lawrence

Washington

$526,458

$1,045,833

$561,481

$66,643

$483,425

$861,535

$12,866,527

$1,908,098

Maximum Regional Funding Amounts

$67,784

$135,110

$73,280

$8,015

$63,662

$109,920

$1,588,115

$244,114

The following organizations may apply for funding under this initiative:

  • Health worker unions;
  • General hospitals;
  • Long term care facilities;
  • Certified home health agencies, licensed home care services agencies, long term health care programs, hospices, ambulatory care facilities, diagnostic and treatment facilities;
  • Office of Mental Health or the Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services licensed providers;
  • Health care facilities trade associations;
  • Labor-management committees;
  • Joint labor-management training funds established by the Federal Taft-Hartley Act; and
  • Educational institutions.

Additionally, applicants must:

  • Be a legally established organization located in NYS;
  • Have a minimum of two years of training experience with health care workers;
  • Be capable of entering into a master contract with DOH; and
  • Identify a need for training in one or more areas:
    • Occupations with known shortages;
    • Educational opportunities in shortage occupations;
    • Provide training to affected health care workers who have experienced or will likely experience job loss/displacement due to changes in health care delivery;
    • New job certification or licensing requirements; and
    • Knowledge and use of emerging technologies.

Applicants that are able to thoroughly demonstrate a need for such training will be given higher scores.  Additionally, preference points will be provided to projects that increase workforce supply in the following professions:

    • Clinical laboratory technologists;
    • Registered Nurses and Licensed Practical Nurses;
    • RN Care coordinators;
    • Certified Nursing Aides;
    • Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners;
    • Nurse Managers and Directors;
    • Physician Assistants;
    • Licensed Master Social Workers and Licensed Clinical Social Workers;
    • Minimum Data Set Coordinators;
    • Home Health Aides;
    • Emergency Technicians and Paramedics;
    • Physical Therapists;
    • Occupational Therapists; and
    • Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

Applicants must also clearly demonstrate an ability to:

    • Develop and manage the structure necessary to implement proposed projects;
    • Develop project curriculum and select program participants within three months of contract execution;
    • Ensure assessment, training and placement services for proposed program participants;
    • Provide DOH with monthly or quarterly outcome and expenditure reports, as well as a two year final report; and
    • Cooperate with DOH and DOL during the program review process and provide supporting documentation regarding outcomes, expenditures and any other information required to evaluate programmatic progress.

Interested organizations must submit applications via the NYS Grants Gateway on or before June 22, 2018 by 4:00 pm.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * *

For additional information on this and other DOH initiatives, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

 

 

Providing Care at Home

As we reported in our annual series highlighting the various healthcare related provisions of the 2018-19 New York State Budget (here), the Enacted Budget reflects the state’s overall policy towards consolidation of the home care marketplace.  Nowhere is the effort to force consolidation more apparent than in the Licensed Home Care Services Agencies (LHCSA) space.  The Enacted Budget has imposed a two-year moratorium on new approvals, a limit on the number of LHCSAs with which Managed Long Term Care Plans (MLTCP) can contract and a new requirement that in the future LHCSA applicants will need to demonstrate “public need” and “financial feasibility” for a post-moratorium certificate of need.  As explained below, however, there may yet be hope for LHCSA applicants and projects that were in the pipeline prior to the moratorium if they fit within one of the three narrow statutory exceptions to the moratorium.  In this article we explore the recent history of LHCSAs in New York, as well as the recent guidance offered by the New York State Department of Health (“DOH”) on how these new restrictions will be implemented.

LHCSAs were subject to a prior moratorium until 2010, when that moratorium was ended by DOH.  The rapid growth in number of LHCSAs since that time can be attributed to a number of factors, including New York’s aging population, the trend away from inpatient long-term care, the “age in place” movement, and the fact that, up until this year, there was no “public need” or “financial feasibility” requirements in order to obtain a certificate of need for a LHCSA.  There are currently over 1,400 LHCSAs authorized to provide hourly nursing care, assistance with activities of daily living and other health and social services to New York’s low-income elderly and disabled populations – though the number actually providing services is unknown.  As noted by Crain’s Health Pulse on April 23, 2018, the most recent employment figures for the home care industry, which includes Certified Home Health Agencies (CHHA), show the sector has been growing at a breakneck pace.  In the past five years alone, home health employers have added 72,600 jobs in New York.  And, for the first time ever, the number of people employed in the home health sector in New York City (167,000) has surpassed the number employed by private hospitals in New York City (166,300).  In contrast, and highlighting the increasing demand for homecare services over inpatient long term care services, nursing home employment is on the decline.

As a result of this growth, the general sentiment among DOH officials appears to be that there are once again too many LHCSAs; hence the reforms included in the 2018-19 Enacted Budget.  Ostensibly, DOH believes that fewer providers will reduce waste, inefficiency, and the opportunity for fraud.  Industry advocates, on the other hand, maintain that efforts to consolidate the industry ignore the fact that home care is provided locally and should therefore be locally run, and that various cultural and special needs communities require individualized boutique services that larger consolidated firms may not be able to accommodate.

While the general effort to consolidate the LHCSA marketplace and home care in general was not unexpected, the rather abrupt implementation of these provisions has clearly caught the industry’s major stakeholders off guard.  If the colloquy among the members of the Public Health and Health Planning Committee’s (PHHPC) Establishment and Project Review Committee (EPRC) at its April 12, 2018 meeting is any indicator (click here for the video and transcript), neither the EPRC nor the estimated 350 or so LHCSAs with applications pending before the PHHPC or in the pipeline were aware that these changes were forthcoming.  Indeed, less than three weeks earlier, at a meeting of the EPRC on March 22, 2018, the EPRC approved some 22 LHCSA applications for presentation to the full PHHPC for final approval.  On April 12, however, the EPRC was asked to consider a motion withdrawing that approval and deferring action on those applications, and 12 additional applications, until the DOH had time to consider them in the context of the moratorium.  After some confusion, the motion was withdrawn without comment and the 22 previously approved applications were sent to the full PHHPC, where they were ultimately deferred pending evaluation under then yet-to-be drafted guidelines on exceptions to the moratorium.  There was one new piece of information offered at the meeting – in response to concern that the two-year period of the moratorium seems arbitrary, Deputy Commissioner Sheppard noted the period was “specifically determined as the period of time that the Department would need to develop and promulgate regulations establishing a full need methodology for the approval of LHCSAs, including a determination of public need and financial feasibility.”  It is also clear that DOH intends to use the two-year period to collect data under the Enacted Budget’s new registration and cost reporting provisions, which went into effect to “better understand” the existing LHCSA marketplace and as part of its public need and financial feasibility formula moving forward.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time that a moratorium affecting submitted and future applications has been imposed.  The DOH imposed a moratorium on CHHAs between 1994-2000, as well as a moratorium on LHCSAs between 2008-2010 (as noted).  In 2000, the DOH imposed a moratorium on the processing of all pending nursing home applications which had yet to receive final approval and begin construction in order to study public need in light of perceived oversupply.  The nursing home moratorium was challenged multiple times in State Supreme Court by aggrieved applicants and repeatedly upheld by the Second and Third Departments.  See, e.g., Matter of Urban Strategies v. Novello, 297 A.D.2d 745 (2d Dept. 2002) and Jay Alexander Manor Inc. v. Novello, 285 A.D.2d 951 (3d Dept. 2001).  One interesting distinction between previous moratoria on LHCSAs, CHHAs and nursing homes and the instant moratorium on LHCSAs is that the former were imposed by the DOH under its discretionary enforcement and regulatory authority, whereas the latter was enacted by the Legislature through its inherent power to regulate health and welfare.  Whether the instant moratorium, which will arguably be more difficult to defeat given its origin, will face a court challenge remains to be seen.

Until the expiration of the LHCSA moratorium on March 31, 2020, however, only those applications which fit within one of three exceptions will be processed: (1) the ALP Related Exception; (2) the Change of Ownership Related Exception; and (3) the Serious Need Exception.  In early May, the DOH released guidance documents, as well as new applications and instructions related to these three statutory exceptions.  The statutory language containing the exceptions and the recent guidance provided by DOH are summarized below.

  • ALP Related Exceptions.

Statutory Language:

(a) an application seeking licensure of a licensed home care services agency that is submitted with an application for approval as an assisted living program authorized pursuant to section 461-l of the social services law.

Additional information from DOH Guidance and Revised Application:

  • The ALP application must have been submitted to the Department and an application number issued, that number must be included in the applicant’s submission.
  • Ownership of the LHCSA must be identical to the ownership of the ALP.
  • Approval will be limited to serving the residents of the associated ALP. Therefore, the application may request only the county in which the ALP resides as the county to be served.
  • The application must include an attestation acknowledging that the approval will be limited to serving the residents of the associated ALP.

 

  • Change of Ownership Related Exceptions.

Statutory Language:

(b)  an  application seeking  approval  to  transfer  ownership for an existing licensed home care services agency that has been licensed and operating for a  minimum of  five years for the purpose of consolidating ownership of two or more licensed home care services agencies.

Additional information from DOH Guidance and Revised Application:

  • Only changes in ownership that consolidate two or more LHCSAs may be accepted during the moratorium. Consolidate means reducing the number of LHCSA license numbers, not a reduction in the number of sites operated under a license number.  A LHCSA license number, for this purpose, is the first four digits, before the “L”.  The application must include all sites of the to‐be‐acquired agency.
  • LHCSAs to be acquired must be currently operational and have been in operation at least five years.
  • The application must request approval to acquire all of the sites of the existing agency.
  • The application must include an attestation and statistical report data verifying the seller(s) is/are operational and has/have been for a minimum of five years, which shall include:
    • the number of patients served in each county for which they are approved to serve and the number and types of staff employed, currently and in each of the previous five years.
    • A statement that reads “In accordance with the requirements of 10 NYCRR 765-2.3 (g) {Agency Name} will promptly surrender their Licensed Home Care Services Agency license(s) to the NYS Department of Health when they cease providing home care services.”
    • A statement that that indicates the operator understands that the actual transfers of ownership interest may not occur until after all necessary approvals are acquired from the DOH and the PHHPC
  • If an existing LHCSA is purchasing one or more LHCSAs, the buyer must also currently be operational per 10 NYCRR Section 765‐3(g).  The application must include an attestation and statistical report data verifying the buyer is currently operational, which shall include:
    • the number of patients served in each county for which they are approved to serve and the number and types of staff employed, currently and in each of the previous five years.

Examples of Qualifying Change of Ownership Applications  

  • An existing LHCSA purchases one or more separately licensed existing LHCSAs. Upon approval, the purchased LHCSAs licenses must be surrendered and their sites become additional sites of the purchasing LHCSA.
  • A new corporation (not currently licensed as a LHCSA) purchases two or more existing LHCSAs. One new license is issued, with the purchased LHCSAs licenses being surrendered and their sites becoming sites of the newly licensed LHCSA.

Examples of Non‐Qualifying Changes in Ownership Applications  

  • A new proposed operator replaces the current operator of a LHCSA.
  • A new controlling entity is established at a level above the current operator.
    • During the moratorium, the change or addition of controlling persons above the operator does not qualify under the exception criteria. As such, if the controlling person/entity chooses to submit an affidavit attesting they will refrain from exercising control over the LHCSA (see 10 NYCRR Section 765-1.14(a)(2) for required affidavit language) until the moratorium is lifted and an application can be submitted, processed, and approved, then the corporate transaction may proceed. Within 30 days of the moratorium being lifted, the agency must submit an application for PHHPC approval of the controlling person.
  • A partial change in ownership requiring Public Health and Health Planning Council approval.
    • Transfers of ownership (full or partial) due to the death of an owner, partner, stockholder, member without the consolidation of LHCSA licenses, does not qualify under the exemption criteria. However, in accordance with section 401 of the State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA), the LHCSA may continue to operate until the Moratorium is lifted and an application may be submitted, unless other sections of regulation or law require otherwise.
  • Serious Concern Exceptions:

Statutory Language:

(c)  an  application  seeking licensure  of  a  home  care  services agency where the applicant demonstrates  to  the  satisfaction  of  the  commissioner  of  health   that submission  of  the application to the public health and health planning council for consideration would  be  appropriate  on  grounds  that  the application addresses a serious concern such as a lack of access to home care services in the geographic area or a lack of adequate and appropriate  care,  language and cultural competence, or special needs services.

Additional information from DOH Guidance and Revised Application:

  • There is a presumption of adequate access if there are two or more LHCSAs already approved in the proposed county.
  • Approved LHCSAs include those that are operational and those approved but not‐yet‐
  • If there are two or more LHCSAs in the requested county:
  • the applicant must articulate the population to be served for which there is a lack of access to licensed home care services;
  • the applicant must submit substantial, data‐driven proof of lack of access to the population (demographics, disposition and referral source for targeted patient population, level of care and visits required, payor mix, etc.);
  • the applicant must provide satisfactory documentation that no existing LHCSA in the county can provide services to the population;
  • if more than one county is requested, the application must include all required material for each county individually;
  • the applicant may request to operate in up to five counties, only.

 

The first round of applications to be processed under this framework occurred at the May 17, 2018 meeting of the PHHPC  (Link to video and agenda).  Those of us looking for additional insight on how the new guidance would be applied by DOH and evaluated by the PHHPC in practice were left wanting, as the entire discussion regarding LHCSAs encompassed less than two minutes of the nearly three-hour meeting.  Notably, the five applications considered and approved at the hearing (as a batch) were all within the ALP Related Exception.  They included:

Elderwood Home Care at Wheatfield

Elderwood Home Care at Williamsville

Western NY Care Services, LLC

Home Care for Generations, LLC

Magnolia Home Care Services

While it may be coincidence, this suggests that DOH and PHHPC have either prioritized LHCSA applications fitting within the ALP Related Exception, or that these types of applications are the simplest to identify and review.

In addition to the guidance on exceptions to the moratorium, DOH has also recently released guidance on the Enacted Budget’s limitations on the number of LHCSAs with which MLTCPs can contract.  As noted in our previous post (here), beginning October 1, 2018, the Commissioner of Health may limit the number of LHCSAs with which an MLTCP may contract, according to a formula tied to (1) MLTCP region, (2) number of MLTCP enrollees,  and (3) timing (the number changes on October 1, 2019).  Exceptions are allowed if necessary to (a) maintain network adequacy, (b) maintain access to special needs services, (c) maintain access to culturally competent services, (d) avoid disruption in services, or (e) accede to an enrollee’s request to continue to receive services from a particular LHCSA employee or employees for no longer than three months.

DOH guidance issued on April 26 to plan administrators (link here), explains the formula that will be used to calculate the number of LHCSAs with which an MLTCP can contract. MLTCPs operating in the City of New York and/or the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester may enter into contracts with LHCSAs in such region at a maximum number calculated based upon the following methodology:

  1. As of October 1, 2018, one contract per seventy-five members enrolled in the plan within such region; and
  2. As of October 1, 2019, one contract per one hundred members enrolled in the plan

within such region.

MLTCPs operating in counties other than those in the city of New York and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester may enter into contracts with LHCSAs in such region at a maximum number calculated based upon the following methodology:

  1. As of October 1, 2018, one contract per forty-five members enrolled in the plan within such region; and
  2. As of October 1, 2019, one contract per sixty members enrolled in the plan within such region.

Additionally, the DOH confirmed that in instances where limits on contracts may result in the enrollee’s care being transferred from one LHCSA to another, and in the event the enrollee wants to continue to be cared for by the same worker(s), the MLTC plan may contract with the enrollee’s current LHCSA for the purpose of continuing the enrollee’s care by that worker(s). These types of contracts shall not count towards the limits mentioned above for a period of three months.

The next big revelation expected from the DOH vis a vis LHCSA restrictions are the parameters by which “financial feasibility” and “public need” will be determined for purposes of issuing certificates of need once the moratorium is over.  As those regulations become available, we will provide a further update.  If you have questions about whether your project may satisfy the requirements of one of the above exception, or you would like to be part of the conversation with the DOH as the framework for the new CON methodology is developed, contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

New York State healthcare policymakers have always had a lukewarm relationship with for-profit providers.  While in some sectors the for-profit provision of care is common (e.g., nursing homes and home care), in others, there are few to no for-profit providers (e.g., hospitals and primary care clinics).  In fact, some in the industry are under the impression that in some areas of healthcare the State has actually prohibited for-profit providers (for the most part it hasn’t, although the scope of state regulation can sometimes create that impression).  At the same time, there is more and more public scrutiny of not-for-profit providers, and as not-for-profit mega-systems continue to grow in New York and elsewhere it is sometimes difficult to distinguish them from for-profit enterprises in many ways.

Certainly, both for-profit and not-for-profit providers can be driven by a real sense of mission, and even the most mission-driven not-for-profit needs to be conscious of the bottom line (the oft-heard refrain being, “no margin, no mission”).  Thus, patients and potential employees in search of a mission-focused entity need to scrutinize both types of providers in some detail when looking for care or employment.  Similarly, new providers selecting the model they want to use need to take into account the unique characteristics of both models.

There is another model which might afford providers, patients and employees exactly the right mix of mission focus and profit-driven efficiency they are looking for.  While it has not received much attention in New York State healthcare to date, the worker cooperative model, in which the employees are the owners, provides an interesting alternative.  Article 5-A of the New York Cooperative Corporation Law (“CCL”) was enacted in 1985 to promote the creation of worker cooperatives and provide a means by which businesses may be democratically controlled and operated by their own workers.  The legislature expected that cooperative ownership would result in increased economic benefits to the worker owners, as well as the creation of new jobs (CCL § 80).

New York permits the formation of for-profit worker cooperatives to conduct any lawful business.  The model has been used in a variety of industries, including child care, cleaning, consulting, education, media, and restaurants (an interesting list can be found here), and it has been actively supported by the administration of New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio (see here).  However, it is uncommon in the healthcare space – while the model was pioneered by a home health care agency based in the Bronx with more than 2,000 worker owners that says that it is the largest worker cooperative in the nation, it is not in wide use.  Nonetheless, under the right circumstances, it offers some intriguing possibilities.

Any corporation organized under the New York Business Corporation Law (BCL) may elect to become a worker cooperative by so stating in its certificate of incorporation or amending it (CCL § 82).  The election may be revoked by an amendment approved by two-thirds of the cooperative’s members (CCL § 86).  Curiously, a worker cooperative may not be classified as a non-profit or not-for-profit corporation (CCL § 83); thus, a worker cooperative is inherently a for-profit enterprise.

Members are individuals who are employed by the cooperative and own voting stock in the form of one membership share each (CCL §§ 81, 88).  All full- and part-time employees are offered membership after completing a probationary period.  The cooperative issues membership shares for a fee, the amount and payment terms of which are set in the by-laws (CCL § 88).  The certificate of incorporation or by-laws establish the qualifications for acceptance and termination of members (CCL § 88).  Only membership shares have voting power, except that non-member stockholders (apparently stockholders who are not workers and who owned stock at the time of the corporation’s election to become a cooperative) may vote on amendments to the certificate of incorporation that would adversely affect their rights as stockholders (CCL §§ 88, 89).

Members receive wages and profit distributions at the end of the calendar or fiscal year of the cooperative.  Profits are allocated to members on the basis of their “patronage”, a defined term meaning the amount of work performed by a member measured in accordance with the certificate of incorporation and by-laws.  Profits are apportioned based on the ratio of each member’s patronage to the total patronage of all members during the applicable period of time.  Profit distributions may be in cash, credits, written notices of allocation or capital stock issued by the cooperative (CCL § 90).  The cooperative may establish a system of internal capital accounts to reflect the book value and determine the redemption price of membership shares (CCL § 92).

The majority of the board of directors of the worker cooperative must be members, although non-members may serve on the board.  Non-members may serve as president, first vice president and other officers.  The by-laws contain the governance provisions for the worker cooperative, including election, terms, classification and removal of directors and officers consistent with the CCL or the BCL (CCL § 91).

A host of unique legal and practical issues are created by the model in general, and by its use in healthcare, in particular.  For instance, how is the confluence of employment and ownership handled for purposes of licensure and certificate of need?  Thus far, the Department of Health has been willing to limit character and competence review to board members only, but that may change if the model were to proliferate.  Similarly, the termination of a sufficiently large group of employees would presumably trigger certificate of need review if those employees represented 10% or more of the ownership of the provider.  In regard to practical concerns, a worker cooperative needs to be very careful in choosing the right leadership – it is a rare corporate executive who possesses the necessary business acumen, but is still comfortable in a setting where his/her employees are, in a very real sense, his/her bosses.

In spite of these challenges, the worker cooperative model may be attractive in settings with a union workforce, where it would represent the next step in the empowerment of workers.  Or, it might serve as an alternative to unionization for a non-unionized workforce looking to become more active.  But either way, it changes the traditional dynamics of the employer/employee relationship – and requires careful consideration before implementation.

If you have any questions about the worker compensation model in the context of healthcare, please do not hesitate to contact Marty Bunin at 646-329-1982 or mbunin@farrellfritz.com or Mark Ustin at 518-313-1403 or mustin@farrellfritz.com.

EDNY Judge Brian Cogan recently addressed the False Claims Act public disclosure bar and original source rule in a decision based on a qui tam Relator’s claims that defendants marketed a test to measure the levels of a certain hormone knowing that the test was flawed. In United States ex rel. Patriarca v. Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics, Inc., Relator alleged that Medicare suffered significant losses because medical professionals ordered treatments based on the test’s inaccurate results.

The Background of PTH Testing

Judge Cogen started his opinion with a lengthy discussion of the medicine that led to Relator’s complaint. Patients with chronic kidney disease may have high levels of parathyroid hormone (“PTH”), which can lead to bone disease. Vitamin D analogs are used to treat high levels of PTH, but overdosing of these analogs can lead to serious health consequences. Accurate diagnosis of PTH levels is therefore critical.

In 1987, Nichols Diagnostics produced a PTH test, the “IRMA Test,” that was performed manually and required a several-hour long incubation period. The test was approved by the FDA and became the industry standard.

The Siemens Test, used to measure PTH levels, was a Second Generation PTH test, measuring the whole PTH molecule and large fragments of the molecule. The Siemens Test was purportedly aligned with the IRMA test. Third Generation tests report only the level of whole PTH molecules and omit the fragments, so Second Generation tests report PTH levels roughly twice that of Third Generation tests.

Later versions of the Nichols Tests “drifted” upward, consistently overstating patient’s PTH levels, leading to medically unnecessary prescriptions and surgeries. After a qui tam action relating to the tests’ inaccuracy and a substantial settlement with the government, Nichols withdrew its tests from the market.

In his qui tam complaint, filed in 2011, Relator alleged the Siemens Test had materially “drifted” from the IRMA test. Relator based his allegation primarily on separate parallel experiments he conducted. Relator compared the Siemens Test to the PTH test developed by his own company, the Scantibodies Test, a Third Generation test.

Public Disclosures of PTH Testing Issues

In the 2006 Souberbielle Study, European scientists studied various PTH tests, including the Siemens Test, compared them to the IRMA Test, and published their findings. The study concluded, among other things, that the values yielded by Second Generation tests varied widely. The study also determined that clinicians should monitor a patient’s PTH levels over a series of tests, as opposed to making clinical decisions on the basis of a single finding. The study also showed a significant differential between the Siemens and Scantibodies Tests.

An article published in 2007 noted that: (1) industry guidelines were based on the IRMA Test; (2) the absolute results obtained from various PTH tests varied from those of the IRMA Test; and (3) the 2006 Souberbielle Study documented this variability. Based on these observations, the author recommended that nephrologists use a single laboratory for results and look at trends in PTH as opposed to single values.

A 2009 study published by the relator who brought the successful Nichols qui tam action disclosed the results of parallel testing of various PTH tests. The study concluded that the Siemens Test generated results that were on average 36% higher than the Scantibodies Test. This was nearly the same differential as that disclosed in the 2006 Souberbielle Study.

Relator argued in his qui tam complaint that the upward drift he observed in the Siemens Test caused physicians to prescribe hundreds of millions of dollars of medically unnecessary Vitamin D, and to conduct untold numbers of medically unnecessary parathyroidectomies. Relator also alleged that Medicare paid for a portion of the cost of the Siemens Test, for prescribed Vitamin D and its analogs, and for surgeries related to elevated PTH levels.

The Public Disclosure Bar

Judge Cogan first addressed the FCA’s public disclosure bar, which bars claims for conduct that has already been made public. The bar discourages “opportunistic plaintiffs” with no significant information of their own who may bring “parasitic lawsuits.”

Prior to the 2010 FCA amendments, the public disclosure bar applied where a qui tam action was “based upon the public disclosure of allegations or transactions.” The Second Circuit and the majority of circuits had held that a relator’s claim was “based upon” the public disclosure if the allegations in the complaint were “substantially similar” to the publicly disclosed information. The 2010 FCA amendment generally followed this majority approach and identified the inquiry as whether “substantially the same allegations or transactions as alleged in the action or claim were publicly disclosed.”

The Second Circuit has applied a broad view of the public disclosure bar. Under that standard, earlier disclosures will bar a relator’s claim if they were sufficient to set the government squarely upon the trail of the alleged fraud. The bar is triggered if material elements of the fraud have been publicly disclosed, and does not require that the alleged fraud, itself, have been disclosed. Also, merely providing more specific details about what happened or translating technical information into digestible form does not negate substantial similarity. Public disclosures under the FCA include the news media and disclosures in scientific and scholarly journals.

After summarizing this caselaw, the Court held that before the Relator filed his complaint: (1) the variation between PTH tests was widely known; (2) physicians were advised to adjust their course of treatment accordingly; (3) Second Generation tests, such as the Siemens Test, were known to yield higher absolute results than Third Generation tests, such as the Scantibodies Test; and 4) the average difference between the Siemens and Scantibodies tests had been published in several studies. As a result, the public disclosure bar applied to Relator’s claims.

The Original Source Rule

Having decided that the public disclosure bar applied, the Court examined whether Relator qualified as an “original source” despite the earlier public disclosures. The FCA definition of “original source” was amended in 2010.

Under the pre-amendment version of the FCA, an original source was “an individual who has direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based and has voluntarily provided the information to the Government before filing an action under this section which is based on the information.” Under the 2010 version, an “original source” is an individual who “has knowledge that is independent of and materially adds to the publicly disclosed allegations or transactions, and who has voluntarily provided the information to the Government before filing an action under this section.”

Judge Cogan outlined various approaches Courts have taken in deciding whether a Relator is an original source: the new information “materially adds to what has already been revealed through public disclosures” (First Circuit); the Relator’s “key facts” are not “already thoroughly revealed” (Eighth Circuit); Relator’s information must “add value” (D.C. Circuit); Relator must bring “more than expertise or a novel analysis to the table” (S.D.N.Y.).

The Court determined that Relator was not an original source. First, over the course of years, the Siemens and Scantibodies tests had been repeatedly compared to each other in a number of published studies. Second, Relator’s findings did not materially depart from earlier ones and were not sufficiently or qualitatively different from the publicly disclosed information. The Court dismissed Relator’s complaint.

The last several years have brought increasing numbers of qui tam actions brought by Relators who are aware of the potentially significant recoveries those actions can bring. The public disclosure bar and the original source rule provide qui tam defendants with arguments to fend off these cases if they are brought by opportunistic relators who are seeking to trade on public information.

As we have discussed in an earlier blog post, the federal administrative agencies have been placing greater emphasis on being more transparent and promoting “interoperability”.

As such, on April 24, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) proposed changes to its Inpatient Prospective Payment System and Long-Term Care Hospital Prospective Payment System to promote better access to patient electronic health information and increase pricing transparency. For example, while hospitals are already required to make pricing information publicly available, the proposed rules impose more stringent guidelines, including a requirement that hospitals post pricing information on the internet. Seema Verma, the CMS Administrator, stated “[t]oday’s proposed rule demonstrates our commitment to patient access to high quality care while removing outdated and redundant regulations on providers. We envision a system that rewards value over volume and where patients reap the benefits through more choices and better outcomes.”

Critical to the proposed changes is a complete overhaul of the Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records Incentive Programs, which is commonly known as the “Meaningful Use” program, by executing on the following core principles:

  1. Having a program that is more flexible and less burdensome;
  2. Placing greater emphasis and encouraging the exchange of health information between providers and patients; and
  3. Incentivizing providers to streamline the process for patients to be able to access their medical records electronically.

A rebranding would not be complete without, of course, a name change; in fact, CMS has proposed changing the “Meaningful Use” program to “Promoting Interoperability”. Interoperability, which means “the ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information,” has been missing from the healthcare industry as technology has been advancing at an unprecedented rate. In a system where healthcare is central to our lives, it appears the final goal is to have a system where patients could have access to a virtual portal where all of their health information from various providers would be available, thus promoting patient-centered care where providers have greater insight into their patient’s medical history—invariably resulting in more thoughtful care. It is refreshing to see government, which is commonly known to always be a step behind private industry, taking the initiative to modernize its infrastructure. At this point in history a patient should be able to obtain his health information on a whim via his mobile device or even see a new physician while not having to deal with the administrative nightmares associated therewith.

While it is unclear if the final goal of “interoperability” will be reached, CMS’ proposed changes are definitely an encouraging step forward.

For more information, please see the CMS fact sheet.

 

 

With so much happening in the cannabis industry we thought we’d take this time to highlight some of the industry’s most recent happenings.

  • Increasing Support for Decriminalization of Marijuana (Federal): On April 20, 2018, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said he’ll introduce a bill taking marijuana off the federal list of controlled substances — in effect decriminalizing its use at the federal level. The bill is expected to be similar to the one proposed by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in 2017. In a tweet to his Twitter followers Chuck Schumer stated: “The time has come to decriminalize marijuana. My thinking – as well as the general population’s views – on the issue has evolved, and so I believe there’s no better time than the present to get this done.”

FDA Approves Marijuana-Derived Drug (Federal): On April 19, 2018, advisers for the Food and Drug Administration unanimously supported the first-ever government approval of a medication made from cannabis. The drug, Epidiolex, is made from a purified ingredient in cannabis called cannabidiol, or CBD. It is intended to treat severe seizures in children caused by rare forms of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes.

Cole Memorandum Update (Federal): On January 5, 2018, we discussed the rescission of the Cole Memorandum by the federal government. The Cole Memorandum outlined the federal government’s general policy prohibiting federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against people following marijuana laws in states that have legalized the drug. The rescission of the Cole Memorandum created much concern and confusion at the state level. In a change of direction, President Donald Trump stated on April 13, 2018, that he will support legislation protecting the marijuana industry in states that have legalized the drug. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner (D-CO) said that President Trump made the assurance to him during a conversation. “President Trump assured me that he will support a federalism-based legislative solution to fix this states’ rights issue once and for all,” Gardener said in a statement.

Marijuana Key Issue in Governorship Race (New York): In February 2018, we discussed Governor Cuomo’s statement during his annual budget address that New York should undertake a study of the possible impacts of legalizing recreational marijuana. The issue of legalization recreational marijuana at a state level is becoming a key issue for his campaign, especially in light of Cynthia Nixon’s recent comments. Ms. Nixon, who is challenging Governor Cuomo in a Democratic primary for the governorship, supports the decriminalization of marijuana. “I believe it’s time for New York to follow the lead of eight other states and D.C. and legalize the recreational use of marijuana,” says Ms. Nixon in a video she posted to Twitter.

New Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Poised to Open (New York): In Medical Marijuana 102 we reviewed New York medical marijuana dispensaries and the issuance by the NYS Department of Health (“DOH”) of licenses to five new companies in addition to the original five companies chosen by the DOH to manufacture and sell medical cannabis. The five new companies will be opening up a total of six New York City dispensaries, one of which will be in Manhattan, bringing the total number of medical marijuana dispensaries to nine.

Number of Certified Patients and Practitioners Continues to Rise (New York): In Medical Marijuana 103, we noted that 1,184 practitioners had registered with the DOH for the purpose of certifying patients for medical marijuana use and that 28,077 patients had been certified for such use. That number has grown exponentially since then – the DOH reports that as of April 17, 2018, there are now over 1,500 registered practitioners and over 50,000 certified patients.

New York’s FY 2019 Executive Budget includes new legislation aimed at combatting sexual harassment in the workplace.  According to the Governor, the legislation purports to be the “most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation….”  Here are the highlights:

  • Effective Immediately:  The new legislation prohibits sexual harassment of “non-employees in the employer’s workplace,” including “contractors, subcontractors, vendors, consultants or other persons providing services pursuant to a contract in the workplace or who is an employee of such contractor, subcontractor, vendor, consultant or other person providing services pursuant to a contract in the workplace. July 11, 2018:  Any settlement, agreement or other resolution directly relating to sexual harassment claims may not include language that prevents the disclosure of the underlying facts unless the plaintiff (1) has been given 21 days to consider the confidentiality/non-disclosure provision and 7 days to revoke the agreement after signing.
  • Effective July 11, 2018:  Mandatory arbitration agreements with respect to sexual harassment claims will no longer be enforceable and shall be deemed null and void.  Worth noting, mandatory arbitration agreements that include sexual harassment disputes remain enforceable with respect to all other claims.
  • Effective October 9, 2018:  Employers must establish a sexual harassment prevention policy and conduct annual interactive sexual harassment training.  The Department of Labor has been charged with consulting with the Division of Human Rights and producing a model training program.  The new rules also mandate written sexual harassment policies that include a standard complaint form, examples of prohibited conduct, and a procedure for timely investigations.

Going Forward . . . Watch for information on the Department of Labor’s model sexual harassment prevention policy and training program as well as Farrell Fritz’s Master Class for those responsible for sexual harassment training initiatives!

If you have questions concerning the development or implementation of these new employer obligations, contact Domenique Camacho Moran, Farrell Fritz’s Labor and Employment Practice Group at 516.227.0626 or dmoran@FarrellFritz.com.