Insurance and Managed Care

As the battle over the future of the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA”) continues, New York State scored a big victory earlier this month with the federal court decision of UnitedHealthcare of New York, Inc., et al. v. Vullo.

The controversy centered on New York State’s risk adjustment program, which is designed to prevent insurers from competing for only the healthiest enrollees. The program requires insurers with enrollees of above-average health for any given plan year to make payments into a common fund.   Those funds are, in turn, used to subsidize insurers who incurred higher claim costs due to having enrollees of below-average health.

 

From 1993 through 2013, New York State had its own risk adjustment program. When the ACA was enacted in 2010, it called for the development of a federal risk adjustment program (the “FRAP”), which the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) was authorized to develop. Although states meeting certain requirements are permitted to administer the FRAP themselves, New York State opted to have HHS implement the FRAP on its behalf.

 

In 2016, HHS published an interim final rule addressing the implementation of the FRAP, wherein HHS acknowledged that certain issuers, including some new and smaller issuers, owed substantial risk adjustment charges that they did not anticipate and encouraged states to examine local approaches to ease these growing pains in the new health insurance market landscape. In response, the New York State Superintendent of Financial Services promulgated an emergency regulation allowing the Superintendent to collect up to 30% of the funds received by carriers in New York State from the FRAP and to redistribute such funds to other carriers in the State pursuant to a State-specific risk adjustment methodology.

The plaintiffs in the action were health insurance companies who offer insurance policies in New York State and who have been, and expect to continue to be, the recipients of risk adjustment payments under the FRAP. The plaintiffs objected to New York State’s emergency regulation, which in part required insurers to turn over funds they had received from the FRAP to the Superintendent so the Superintendent could redistribute such funds to other insurers in New York. The insurers’ primary argument was that the New York State regulation is preempted by the ACA.

 

The District Court for the Southern District of New York found that, under the plain language of the ACA, state regulations are not preempted unless they “prevent the application” of the ACA, which the New York State regulation does not do. The Court further found that there was nothing in the ACA requiring New York State to obtain HHS approval of its emergency regulation. Moreover, statements made by HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made clear that states are intended to have an ongoing role in risk adjustment policies. All of this, according to the Court, was evidence that the ACA does not preempt the New York State regulation. Accordingly, the Court dismissed the action, allowing the Superintendent to redistribute the FRAP funds paid to New York insurers as the Superintendent deems appropriate.

As we previously reported, the 2018-19 New York State Budget passed in March includes significant provisions intended to reduce the number of Licensed Home Care Services Agencies (LHCSAs) around the state. Among these provisions are a two-year moratorium on the establishment of new entities, a limit on the number of LHCSAs with which Managed Long Term Care Plans 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. Additional information was provided by the Department of Health (DOH) in early May, when it released a new guidance document, as well as a new Certificate of Need (CON) application and instructions. These documents provide a fairly clear road map to assist LHCSAs in navigating the CON process during the moratorium, which is set to expire on March 31, 2020.

DOH has recently taken the next step in implementing the 2018-19 Budget provisions, and given the long term care community an opportunity to impact what the LHCSA landscape will look like after the expiration of the moratorium. In July, DOH issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather input for the new need methodology that will apply when the moratorium ends.

An RFI is a mechanism commonly used by state agencies to obtain stakeholder feedback on pending state actions. It is not a Request for Proposals or Request for Applications – no award is made in connection with an RFI, and it would be highly unusual for the state to declare a “winning” methodology. Rather, responses to the RFI will allow stakeholders to outline their positions on what the new methodology should look like. Proposals received from stakeholders and/or portions of those proposals can be accepted or rejected at DOH’s discretion. The presumption is that DOH will use the information obtained from stakeholder submissions to craft a methodology that will implement the applicable statutory mandates as effectively as possible.

This does not mean that DOH is looking for a methodology that is agreeable to the LHCSA community. However, this does provide an excellent opportunity for LHCSAs to point out potential pitfalls to be avoided in the development of the new methodology. Specifically, DOH will likely be most interested in avoiding actions that would undermine the goals of the CON process and/or DOH’s more general goal to ensure that patients have a robust selection of quality providers.

It should be noted that the information sought by the RFI goes beyond what is normally considered to be part of a need methodology. Traditionally, CON review is intended to ensure four things: (1) public need for the services in question, (2) the character and competence of the proposed provider(s), (3) the fiscal feasibility of the proposed project, and (4) compliance with architectural and other regulatory standards. A “need methodology” generally relates primarily to the first item – whether or not there is a public need for the services. This is often presented as a mathematical function, based on the typical number of patients in the service area and the number of services already present in that area. In practice, there is almost always a significant discretionary element that allows DOH and the Public Health and Health Planning Council (which must approve all new establishments) substantial leeway in determining whether a particular provider is necessary.

The RFI seeks information not only on how to assess public need for LHCSA services, but also on character and competence and other potential elements of a CON application. Until now, LHCSAs were not subject to formal public need or fiscal feasibility analysis, which is part of what makes the new legislation so significant – and which makes this opportunity to impact the new rules so important. It is therefore a good thing that DOH has written the RFI so expansively.

In regard to traditional need analysis, DOH is seeking information on all the elements of a typical need methodology, including:

  1. Planning Area: This is part of the denominator of the need methodology equation – should need be determined by county (as is often the case), multiple counties, regions, etc. DOH references issues impacting this analysis, including driving time, availability of public transportation and availability of existing service providers.
  2. Need Factors: This is the other part of the denominator – within the planning area, should need be weighed against total population, population based on demographics (e.g., age), disease and disability prevalence, capacity of existing providers, etc.
  3. Timing: How often should need be recalculated? This is potentially significant. Traditionally, the CON process has been a snapshot in time – applications are judged based on need at the time of application, and that is all. Conceivably, DOH could opt instead to reevaluate overall need at periodic intervals, which could place even existing providers at risk. Other open questions specifically asked by DOH include whether the need methodology should apply in regard to potential service expansions or change of ownership. And while all the foregoing relates to the question when the need methodology should be applied, DOH also asks the related question of how frequently the need methodology itself should be reviewed, and if necessary revised.
  4. Exceptions: As noted, there are almost always exceptions to any formulaic need methodology. These exceptions can go both ways. On the one hand, should there be an arbitrary cap on the number of LHCSAs in a particular planning area? On the other hand, should the provision of specialized services (DOH mentions Traumatic Brain Injury and Nursing Home Transition and Diversion waiver services, pediatrics, IV infusion, and flu shot services in particular) be exempt from the general rule and/or be subject to a special rule? Similarly, DOH asks whether applicants proposing to provide only personal care services be treated differently from other applicant – suggesting that this is an option under consideration.

In regard to character and competence, DOH asks a few questions, as well:

  1. Experience: DOH seeks input on what type of experience should be required of a LHCSA operator. This reflects an issue that has plagued the CON process for a long time – namely, the fact that an applicant with absolutely no experience, who therefore has a pristine record, may have a better chance of being approved that a competent provider of long standing, who inevitably has had some compliance issues. This can be ameliorated by requiring some baseline experience in applicants.
  2. Performance: In addition to evaluating what an applicant has done, DOH asks for input concerning the extent to which it ought to review how successful the applicant has been. In particular, DOH asks whether any quality measures should be considered when reviewing an application for licensure or change of ownership, and whether applications for service area expansions should consider character and competence (which also implicates the timing issue mentioned above).

Finally, the RFI includes a more general catch-all question, giving responders the opportunity to opine on any other factors that might be appropriate to include in the CON process. DOH even goes so far as to suggest a couple:

  1. Staffing: LHCSA staffing can be cyclical (given the nature of the work, more staff tends to be available when the economy as a whole is worse), but in some places staffing shortages are persistent. DOH asks whether the availability of staff should be considered when determining public need. It also asks the inverse question – whether an applicant proposing to provide training programs for personal care aides and home health aides should be prioritized.
  2. Medicare/Medicaid: DOH also asks whether the extent to which an applicant intends to serve Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries should be taken into account. In general, the CON process has historically favored the provision of care to Medicaid beneficiaries and individuals who otherwise cannot pay for such care, even going so far as to require applicants to promise to provide a particular amount of such services in some instances. Presumably, DOH would be more inclined to approve a LHCSA applicant offering a high percentage of its services to such individuals.

While the question of services for Medicaid beneficiaries certainly carries implications for the fiscal feasibility of applicants, it is interesting that fiscal feasibility by itself is not a strong focus of the RFI. This may simply be a function of the fact that, unlike some other DOH licensees, LHCSAs do not require an extensive bricks and mortar presence – so the ability of an applicant to make significant capital investments is less important. But DOH still has an interest in not approving LHCSAs that cannot sustain their business model – and so fiscal feasibility should be important.

The other surprising absence from the RFI is any specific discussion of cultural competency. The RFI refers to services for “special populations”, and presumably this would include racial, ethnic and national groups as well as individuals with particular disabilities or illnesses and other distinct populations (as opposed to distinct services), but that is not stated explicitly. It remains an open question whether a particular demographic group constitutes a “special population” sufficient to define the target population for a needs analysis, to justify an exception to the general needs analysis, or to otherwise be considered during the CON process.

In general, LHCSA providers who are considering responding to the RFI would be well-advised to consider all the factors that make their services unique, honestly evaluate whether those factors are appropriate for inclusion in the CON process, and respond accordingly. They might also consider additional outreach to state policymakers, either alone or in collaboration with other similarly-situated providers, and either through any of the several excellent trade associations that serve the LHCSA sector, or, where their interests diverge from their competitors, via separately retained counsel. Responses to the RFI are due no later than October 12, 2018.

If you have any questions or would like additional information on any of the above-referenced issues, or would be interested in assistance in responding to the RFI, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com

This past July 26, 2018 was the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), landmark civil rights legislation designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications. It protects anyone with a “disability”, defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” which include but are not limited to “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” This is clearly a broad list – and consequently, the ADA impacts many individuals and organizations on almost a daily basis.

ADA requirements impact the healthcare sector no less than any other sector, and more than most. In particular, the 2002 Supreme Court case of Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), held that the ADA requires individuals with disabilities receiving services from the state to be served in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs –meaning in practice that they must be served in community settings rather than institutions if that (1) is appropriate, (2) is not opposed by the recipient, and (3) can be reasonably accommodated taking into account the resources available to the state and the needs of others. That case specifically addresses individuals with mental disabilities residing in a psychiatric hospital, but courts subsequently extended the principle to individuals with other disabilities in other settings, and has helped to drive healthcare policy nationwide, particularly in the long term care space.

To coordinate the implementation of the Olmstead decision, in late 2002 New York State established the Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council, an interagency council comprised of representative of various state agencies that attempted to address the Olmstead mandate in a coordinated way. Governor Cuomo expanded on that effort in 2012, when he issued an Executive Order establishing the Olmstead Plan Development and Implementation Cabinet, a similar collection of agency representatives charged with issuing recommendations on how best to implement the Olmstead mandate. The Cabinet issued a report in October 2013 that identified four areas of focus: (1) the need for strategies to address specific populations in unnecessarily segregated settings, including psychiatric centers, developmental centers, intermediate care facilities, sheltered workshops and nursing homes; (2) the general need to increase opportunities for people with disabilities to live integrated lives in the community; (3) the need to develop consistent cross-systems assessments and outcome measurements regarding how New York meets the needs and choices of people with disabilities in the most integrated setting; and (4) the need for strong Olmstead accountability measure. This report informed many of the subsequent reforms implemented by Governor Cuomo in the health and human services space.

On July 26, 2018, the Governor expanded the State’s commitment to the ADA and furthered the State’s Olmstead compliance by announcing the first phase of the “Able New York” agenda, a series of regulatory initiatives designed to enhance the accessibility of a variety of state programs and services. This first phase focuses on the Department of Health (DOH), and includes a series of policy initiatives aimed at supporting community living for individuals with disabilities. Specifically, the Governor has charged DOH to take the following actions:

  • Dear Administrator Letter: DOH will issue a “Dear Administrator Letter” (DAL) to all nursing facilities reminding them of their obligations to provide assistance to any resident that wishes to return to the community. DALs are a form of subregulatory guidance used by DOH to set policy without issuing a formal regulation.
  • Immediate Need Program: DOH will issue new guidance to Local Divisions of Social Services regarding the immediate need program for authorizing personal care services. The Immediate Need Program, which was established pursuant to legislation enacted in 2015, is not a separate program so much as a set of procedures requiring expedited eligibility and assessment determinations for individuals who (1) have no informal caregivers, (2) are not receiving needed assistance from a home care services agency, (3) have no third party insurance or Medicare benefits available to pay for needed assistance, and (4) have no adaptive or specialized equipment or supplies that meet their need for assistance. In such cases, Medicaid eligibility must be determined within seven days. DOH has been instructed to intervene in counties that are not complying with the program.
  • MLTC Housing Disregard: DOH will provide education to nursing homes, adult homes, local governments, and Managed Long Term Care (MLTC) plans about the MLTC Housing Disregard, which provides nursing home residents who are discharged back to the community with additional housing allowance should they join a MLTC plan.  The Housing Disregard was established in 2013, and allows individuals to retain a dollar amount per month for housing without jeopardizing their Medicaid eligibility. The amount varies by region. In order to be eligible for the disregard, a person must (1) be at least 18 years of age, (2) have been a resident of a nursing home for at least 30 days, (3) have had nursing home care paid by Medicaid; (4) require community-based care for more than 120 days; and (5) have a housing expense such as rent or mortgage.

In addition to the foregoing, DOH will also “explore” (but presumably not necessarily implement) the following measures: 

  • Certification of Assessment & Discharge Education: DOH might require Medicaid-enrolled nursing homes to certify each year that they have (a) assessed all residents’ functional capacity; (b) asked residents about their interest in receiving information regarding returning to the community; and (c) provided sufficient preparation and orientation to residents to ensure safe and orderly discharge from the facility.
  • HCBS Evaluations as Part of Certificate of Need Review:  DOH might require any new application for additional nursing home beds or change of ownership to include, as part of its business plan, an assessment of the home and community based services (HCBS) in the service area, a description of its current or planned linkages to such HCBS services, and how its admission policies will ensure that residents are placed in the most appropriate and least restrictive setting. 
  • Discharge Rights Letter and Notice: DOH might require all nursing homes to inform residents and their families and representatives in writing of their discharge rights, including information on HCBS and community transition programs. DOH might also require all nursing homes to publicly post information regarding available resources and services that can assist residents in moving to the community, and explore additional ways to highlight discharge options. DOH may also engage the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program on this effort.
  • Nursing Home Discharge Incentive: DOH might incentivize nursing home discharges by developing a quality metric that rewards facilities that discharge long stay residents to the community, provided those residents are successfully maintained in the community for at least 90 days.

Thus, the new guidance to be issued by DOH to nursing homes and other long term care provider could be significant, particularly if it includes a new quality incentive for discharges. Even if DOH opts not to implement any of the proposed new initiatives, the obligations to be outlined in the new DAL could still impose significant new regulatory requirements on nursing home administrators.

We will continue to monitor the implementation of this phase of the Able New York agenda, as well as future phases. For additional information on this or other legislative or regulatory matters, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

 

In January 2018, during the Executive budget address, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Health (DOH) to review the health, criminal justice and economic impacts of regulating recreational marijuana in New York. In doing so, he requested DOH to act in consultation with other NYS agencies and to evaluate the experience, consequences and effects of legalized marijuana in neighboring states and territories.  Seven months later, on July 13, the DOH released their highly anticipated assessment and recommendations.  The report follows DOH’s recent promulgation of emergency regulations that added opioid use as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana and allowing medical marijuana to be used as an alternative treatment for pain relief in lieu of opioids.  Additionally, the Governor recently directed the Department of Financial Services to issue guidance to encourage NYS chartered banks and credit unions to consider establishing banking relationships with medical marijuana-related businesses in New York that are operating in full compliance with all applicable State laws and regulations, including the Compassionate Care Act.

DOH’s report reviews the current landscape of state laws surrounding marijuana usage in the United States: Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. have adopted medical marijuana programs, and 8 states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for regulated recreational use by adults.  The report concedes the recent activities in surrounding states and Canada have prompted the need for New York to consider the legalization of marijuana thoughtfully and responsibly.  The report examines how the prohibition of marijuana led to a significant number of arrests for possession of marijuana and caused adverse and disproportionate economic, health, and safety impacts for individuals with low incomes and communities of color.  Additionally, the report highlights several studies that have illustrated reductions in opioid prescribing and overdose deaths with the availability of marijuana products.    

While the report acknowledges marijuana use is not without its risks, it concludes that the benefits of an adult regulated marijuana program would have significant health, social justice and economic benefits that outweigh any potential negative impacts for New York.  The report recommends harm reduction strategies and principles be incorporated into the regulated marijuana program to help ensure consumer and industry safety.  For example, a regulated adult-use only marijuana program should prohibit use by youth (those under 21 years of age) and simultaneously implement strategies to reduce youth use of marijuana.  Regulating marijuana would allow for laboratory testing, product labeling, guidance and consumer education at dispensaries.  This would allow consumers to be better informed about the products they are purchasing, understand the dosage options, various ingestion methods, what products and techniques may work best for them, as well as understand potential adverse consequences and potential harms of marijuana use.  An adult regulated marijuana program could also help promote marijuana as an effective alternative pain treatment to opioids.  Additionally, a regulated marijuana program should create guidelines to ensure packaging is child proof and contains appropriate warning labels to avoid accidental consumption.    

The report outlines the impact marijuana legalization would have on the criminal justice system.  In 2010, the marijuana arrest rate in New York was the highest in the country and twice the national average.  Unfortunately, despite equal marijuana use among racial groups, black individuals were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.  Subject matter experts echoed similar sentiments to DOH and stated the most appropriate way to rectify this issue would be to legalize marijuana.  Marijuana-related convictions have a lasting impact on individuals, their families and the communities where these individuals live.  Individuals with a criminal record typically experience lifelong challenges with securing stable employment, housing and economic stability.  The DOH report indicates if marijuana was regulated, there would be a reduction of expenditures related to enforcement, prosecution and punishment for illegal marijuana offenses.  This would allow law enforcement to devote more of their time to community oriented policing and other more pressing focus areas.

The DOH study illustrates that NYS would be one of the largest regulated marijuana markets in the country and that there is great potential for tax revenue for the State.  DOH stated this funding could be used to help provide financial support for other programs, such as public health, community reinvestment, education, transportation, research, law enforcement, workforce development, and employment initiatives.  The report estimates there is projected to be 1,290,000 consumers in NY that would access regulated marijuana within the first year.  Based on certain inputs, assumptions, and average retail prices for marijuana, the estimated revenue for the first year could be between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion annually – based on the sale of 6.5-10.2 million ounces being sold at $270 – $340 per ounce.  It should be noted, however that the average price of an ounce of marijuana in the United States, according to a recent Forbes article is around $247 an ounce.  Thus, these projections are arguably inflated.   Furthermore, depending on the retail tax rate that is ultimately imposed (the analysis used 7% and 15% for comparison purposes), NYS could receive between $248 million to upwards of $677 million in tax revenue annually.  However, the higher the tax rate imposed, the more likely users will continue to resort to the black market to obtain marijuana.          

The report acknowledges the implementation of a regulated marijuana program would require legislative and regulatory actions to appropriately address the diverse geographic needs throughout New York.  NYS must determine what type of licenses to offer under the regulated marijuana program and whether or not vertical integration would be allowed.  DOH recommends NYS limit the number of licenses available initially, and adopt a licensure model that is similar to Massachusetts, which prioritizes applicants for licensure based on providing equal opportunities for individuals who meet certain criteria (those living in areas of disproportionate impact, employment of residents in such areas, employment of people with drug-related criminal offender record that are otherwise employable, and ownership by persons of color).  Additionally, NYS would need to develop regulations and requirements for each element of the supply chain, cultivation and production practices, laboratory guidance, packaging and tamper proofing of products, and how marijuana will be retailed.  DOH recommends NYS place limits on the amount of THC allowed in marijuana, the types of products that may be offered for sale, and limit the maximum amount an individual may purchase to one ounce.

Regarding the taxation of regulated marijuana products, DOH recommends NYS begin with a low taxation rate, between 7% and 10%, to help encourage users to transition to the legalized market.  The report also emphasized that the workforce needs for this emerging industry must be addressed as the program continues to be developed to ensure safe working conditions.

Lastly, the DOH report recommended NYS convene a workgroup of subject matter experts, with relevant public health expertise, to: (1) contemplate the nuances of a regulated marijuana program; (2) review existing legislation; and (3) make recommendations to the State that are consistent with the overarching goals of harm reduction and public education.

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

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Our series highlighting recent activity by the NYS Legislature (introduced here) continues with a recap of bills passed in 2018 that relate to intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). This synopsis follows previous summaries we have done concerning the pharmaceutical industry (here), hospitals (here), long term care and aging (here), and behavioral health (here).

In a session characterized by intermittent paralysis in the Senate, the Legislature was still able to come together on several key initiatives in the I/DD space. Many of these create additional burdens on the Executive (e.g., requiring the Executive to create identification cards for individuals with I/DD).  Others focus on curtailing Executive authority in the I/DD space (e.g., prohibiting any change of auspice in state-operated individualized residential alternatives or setting a statutory minimum for reinvestment of facility sale proceeds).  In particular, an increasing amount of legislative activity in the I/DD space focuses on the identification of and services for autism spectrum order.

The following bills in the I/DD space currently await action by the Governor:

Identification Cards (A249C by Assemblymember Santabarbara/S2565C by Senator Helming):  This bill would require the Commissioner of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to develop an identification card denoting that a person has been medically diagnosed with a developmental disability, which can be presented to law enforcement, firefighters and medical services personnel as necessary.  The front of the card would have to indicate that it was issued by OPWDD and include the bearer’s name, address, date of birth, and a specific statement that the bearer has a developmental disability, may have difficulty following directions, and may become physically agitated.  The reverse of the card would have to include, at the bearer’s discretion, a contact name and phone number, and a space for inclusion of additional information.  OPWDD may charge a fee for the card.

Same Gender Transportation (A10708 by Assemblymember Gunther/S8592 by Senator Ortt):  Under a current law adopted in 1927, a female patient receiving services for mental disability who is being transported to or from a facility must be accompanied by another female, unless accompanied by her father, brother, husband or son.  This bill, which was introduced at the request of OPWDD, would amend that law to make it gender-neutral, make it permissive rather than mandatory, and provide that it is conditioned upon applicable staffing limitations and upon request.

Care Demonstration Program (A8990 by Assemblymember Gunther/S7291 by Senator Ortt):  This bill is an agreed-upon chapter amendment (see discussion of chapter amendments in our introductory post here) to Chapter 491 of the Laws of 2017, which was intended to codify OPWDD care demonstration programs originally developed and implemented in 2015, pursuant to which members of the state workforce provide community-based care to individuals with developmental disabilities.  The services provided by such programs include, but are not limited to, community habilitation, in-home respite, pathways to employment, supported employment, and community prevocational services.  The original bill requires OPWDD to monitor the quality and effectiveness of these programs, requires OPWDD to issue a report by December 31, 2020, and expires March 31, 2021.  This bill would eliminate the reporting requirement, make the selection of services provided by those programs permissive rather than mandatory, and change the expiration date to March 31, 2020.

Change of Auspice of State-Operated Individualized Residential Alternatives (A10442 by Assemblymember Gunther/S8200 by Senator Marcellino):  Current law imposes expansive notice requirements on any effort by OPWDD to close or transfer a state-operated individualized residential alternative (IRA), which is a type of community residence that provides room, board and individualized service options.  This bill would prohibit any change of auspice of any IRA currently operated by OPWDD, thus completely preventing OPWDD from outsourcing such IRAs to private entities.

Reinvestment of Sale Proceeds (A10951 by Assemblymember Lentol/S8633 by Senator Ortt):  This bill would require that 85% of the proceeds from the sale of any property that was previously used, operated or maintained by OPWDD be used exclusively to increase funding for state-operated residential or community-based services.

Study on Early Diagnosis and Long-Term Treatment of Autism (A261 by Assemblymember Abinanti/S3895 by Senator Parker):  This bill would require the Commissioner of OPWDD, the Commissioner of the State Education Department, the Commissioner of the Department of Health, the Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, and the Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health to conduct a study to be performed on the future costs to the state for the early diagnosis and long-term treatment of autism spectrum disorder.  The report, along with legislative recommendations, is due to the Governor and the Legislature on or before April 1, 2021.

Autism Outreach to Minorities (A7976 by Assemblymember De La Rosa/S5534-A by Senator Hamilton):  This bill would require the Autism Spectrum Disorders Advisory Board established in 2016 to identify strategies and methods of improving coordination of services associated with autism spectrum disorders for minority group members, including but not limited to African American, Latino and Asian children.

Autism Screening for Children Aged 3 and Under (A9868A by Assemblymember Santabarbara/S8955 by Senator Ortt):  Current law requires the Commissioner of Health to establish best practice protocols for the early screening of children for autism screening disorder, which must incorporate standards and guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics.  This bill would provide that those standards must include developmental screening for children aged 3 and under, and must be updated at least once every two years.

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For additional information on any of the foregoing bills, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

Our series highlighting recent activity by the NYS Legislature continues with a recap of bills passed in 2018 that relate to behavioral health. This synopsis follows previous summaries we have done concerning pharmacy (here), hospitals (here), long term care and aging (here).

Except where otherwise noted, these bills await action by the Governor.

Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Report (A3694-C by Assemblymember Gunther / S1156-C by Senator Ortt):  This legislation would establish the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Report Act, which, beginning September 1, 2019,  would require the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to include in the annual Consumer Guide to Health Insurers (here) information concerning insurers’ and health plans’ compliance with NYS and federal requirements for the provision of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

Insurers and plans would be required to annually provide the DFS and Department of Health (DOH) all of the information necessary to prepare the report, including:

  • Rates of utilization review for mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) claims as compared to medical and surgical claims, including the rates of approval and denial, categorized by benefits provided by the following classifications: inpatient in-network, inpatient out-of-network, outpatient in-network, outpatient out-of-network, emergency care, and prescription drugs;
  • The number of prior or concurrent authorization requests for mental health and SUD services and the number of denials, compared with similar authorization requests for medical and surgical services, categorized by the same classifications noted above;
  • Rates of appeals, adverse determinations, adverse determinations upheld and overturned for mental health and SUD services, as well as such rates for medical and surgical claims;
  • The percentage of claims paid for in-network and out-of-network mental health and SUD services compared with in-network and out-of-network medical and surgical services;
  • The number of behavioral health advocates or staff that are available to assist policyholders with mental health and SUD benefits, pursuant to an agreement with the Attorney General’s office;
  • A comparison of cost sharing requirements, co-payments, co-insurance, and benefit limitations between mental health and SUD services and medical and surgical services;
  • The number and type of providers licensed in NYS that provide mental health and SUD services in-network and the number of providers that are out-of-network;
  • The percentage of providers of services for mental health and SUD who remained participating providers; and
  • Any other information DFS determines necessary to track mental health and SUD parity, including but not limited to an evaluation of: the company’s in-network mental health and SUD provider panels and reimbursement practices for in-network and out-of network services compared with those of medical and surgical services.

Discharge Planning for Individuals with Mental Health Disorder (A10644 by Assemblymember Gunther / S8769 by Senator Ortt):  This legislation would require the Office of Mental Health (OMH), in conjunction with DOH, to develop guidance and educational materials regarding effective discharge planning for individuals with a mental health disorder.  Information will be provided to hospitals across NY and would also be provided to individuals with a documented mental health disorder or those who appear be at risk for a mental health disorder during the discharge planning process.  This legislation was previously highlighted in our post on legislation affecting hospitals (here).

Maternal Depression Treatment (A8953 by Assemblymember Richardson / S7409 by Senator Krueger):  This legislation makes technical amendments to Chapter 463 of 2017 (S4000/A8398), which would have required DOH, in collaboration with the OMH, to compile and maintain a list of providers who treat maternal depression, and ensure adequate investment in treatment resources, including a statewide hotline, peer support, adequate referral networks and telehealth or telemedicine services.  This bill amends that law to instead require DOH, in consultation with OMH, to simply “inform providers of the need to raise awareness and work to address maternal depression,” and to provide information on their websites to assist people in locating mental health professionals, other licensed professionals, peer support, not-for-profit corporations and other community resources that treat or provide support for maternal depression.  The bill was signed by the Governor on June 1, 2018.

Mental Health and Home Care Collaboration (A10938 by Assemblymember Gunther / S8632 by Senator Ortt):  This legislation would allow the existing Geriatric Service Demonstration Program, which provides grants to providers of mental health care to the elderly (here) to foster and support collaboration between mental health providers and home care services, including certified home health agencies and licensed home care service agencies.  It is intended to help promote integrated physical and mental health care services in NYS communities for individuals with co-occurring physical and mental health needs.

Tick-Borne Disease Study (A9019-A by Assemblymember Gunther / S7171-A by Senator Serino):  This legislation would require DOH, in conjunction with OMH, to conduct a tick-borne diseases and blood-borne pathogen impact study to examine their impact on  mental illness rates in endemic areas of the state.  This report would be due by October 1, 2019 and would detail:

  • Considerations on how Lyme, tick-borne illnesses and other blood-borne pathogens or vector-borne diseases may have correlations with mental illness in infected individuals;
  • Populations at risk, including individuals that work outside or that have elevated exposure risks;
  • Diagnostic indicators of mental illness that can be used as guidance for health and mental health providers;
  • Historical considerations of infection rates and mental illness indicators that may have gone undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in endemic areas; and,
  • Recommendations for intervention and coordinated care for individuals who exhibit mental illness symptoms and also have physical health indicators.

Effects of Trauma on Child Development (A10063-B by Assemblymember Joyner / S8000-B by Senator Bailey):  This legislation would require the Commissioner of Education to conduct a study on the effects of trauma on child development and learning.  The study would include, but not be limited to, the following information:

  • The types of trauma experienced by students;
  • The impacts of trauma on child development and learning;
  • Screening and assessments of trauma available in schools;
  • Programs, interventions, and services related to trauma available in schools; and
  • Best practices for school personnel in the area of trauma as it relates to child development and learning.

The State Education Department (SED) would be required to submit its findings and recommendations to the Governor and NYS Legislature within one year.

Suicide Prevention Education (A3210-A by Assemblymember Ortiz / S5860-A by Senator Ritchie):  This legislation would require OMH, in consultation with SED, to develop and publish educational materials regarding suicide prevention measures and signs of depression among students in  NYS universities, community colleges, and city universities.  Such educational materials would include, but not be limited to:

  • Information regarding symptoms of depression;
  • How depression manifests itself in different cultures;
  • Warning signs of suicide;
  • Actions to take once a student is identified at risk of suicide; and
  • A list of educational websites regarding suicide and students attending university or college.

These educational materials would be available to faculty and staff in these educational institutions via the OMH website and by any other means OMH deems appropriate, within 90 days after it is signed into law.

Adolescent Suicide Prevention (A8961 by Assemblymember De La Rosa / S7322 by Senator Alcantara):  This legislation makes technical amendments to Chapter 436 of 2017 (S5500-C/ A7225-B), which would have established a nine-member Adolescent Suicide Prevention Advisory Council to facilitate the coordination of adolescent suicide prevention services.  As outlined in the Governor’s 2017 approval memo, the bill presented implementation challenges.  The current bill would repeal the prior bill and instead require OMH to assure the development of plans, programs, and services in the research and prevention of suicide, to reduce suicidal behavior and deaths through consultation, training, implementation of evidence-based practices, and use of suicide surveillance data.  OMH would develop such plans, programs, and services in cooperation with other agencies and departments in NYS, local governments, community organizations, entities, and individuals.  OMH would also consider the impact of differing demographic groups, gender, race and ethnicity, cultural and language needs.

Substance Use Education (A7470 by Assemblymebmer Davila / S8318 by Senator Comrie):   This legislation would require the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), in consultation with SED, to develop educational materials to be provided to school districts and boards of cooperative educational services for use in any drug and alcohol related curriculum regarding the misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication and other drugs.  These materials would be age appropriate, and to the extent practicable, include information for parents to identify the warning signs and to address the risks of substance abuse.

Additionally, the bill would require the Superintendent of each school district, in consultation with the related district superintendent of a board of cooperative educational services, to designate a member of the school district’s staff or an employee to provide information to any student, parent, or staff regarding available substance use related services.  Where practicable, this individual should be a school social worker, school guidance counselor, or any other health practitioner or counselor employed by the school.  These designated individuals will be required to undergo any necessary training required by OASAS.  Information received by designated individuals would be kept confidential, however, nothing would relieve them of any legal duty to otherwise report such information.

Substance Abuse Disorder Referrals (A7689-A by Assemblymember Rosenthal / S6544-B by Senator Akshar):  This legislation would prohibit any SUD provider from intentionally soliciting, receiving, accepting or agreeing to receive payment, benefit, or any other consideration to induce the referral of a potential patient for SUD services.  This legislation does not prohibit:

  • Lawful payments by a health maintenance organization or health insurer acting on behalf of their enrollees for such SUD services or benefits to be provided;
  • Lawful payments to or by a provider to a health maintenance organization or health insurer as payment for services provided, a refund for an overpayment, a participating provider fee, or any similar remuneration;
  • Payment for an activity that, at the time of such activity, would have been lawful as specifically exempt, or otherwise not prohibited under any federal statute or regulations, including but not limited to 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b, or the regulations promulgated thereafter if conducted by a person, firm, partnership, group, practice, association, fiduciary, employer representative or any other entity providing SUD services;
  • Any employee or representative of a provider conducting marketing activities, where the employee or representative identifies the provider represented for whom the employee works, identifies themselves as a marketer and not a clinician or individual who can provide diagnostic, counseling or assessment services;
  • Commissions, fees or other remuneration lawfully paid to insurance agents as provided under the Insurance Law.

Providers who intentionally violate these provisions would be guilty of a misdemeanor as defined under the Penal Law.

OASAS Provider Directory (A8151 by Assemblymember Rosenthal / S8552 by Senator Golden):  This legislation would require OASAS to maintain a directory of all providers and programs operated, licensed, or certified on their website.  The searchable directory would include the following information:

  • Location(s) of each provider or program;
  • Contact information for each provider or program;
  • Services offered by each provider or program at each location of the provider or program, as well as which medications are available at any medication-assisted treatment provider;
  • Special populations served;
  • Insurance accepted;
  • Availability of beds and services; and
  • Any other information OASAS deems appropriate.

Medical Marihuana as Alternate Treatment for Substance Use Disorder (A11011B Rules, Assemblymember Gottfried / S8987-A by Senator Amedore):  As we previously reported in another blog post, this legislation would help provide alternative treatment options for pain management and substance use disorder by including “pain that degrades health and functional capability where the use of medical marihuana is an alternative to opioid use” and “substance use disorder” to the list of qualifying conditions for patients to access medical marihuana.

Notice of Service Reductions at State-Operated Hospitals (A9563-A by Assemblymember Gunther / S7207 by Senator Ortt):  This legislation amends the notice requirements to local governments, community organizations and other interested parties regarding the potential for significant service reductions at state-operated hospitals.  The bill would require notice of closure or significant service reductions at state operated hospitals and state operated research institutes be a maximum length of twenty-four months prior to commencing such service reduction.  This legislation is intended to allow appropriate planning to take place and ensure a thoughtful transition plan is developed for all affected stakeholders.

Continuing Education for Psychologists (A9072-A by Assemblymember Fahy / S7398-A by Senator Valesky):  This legislation would require psychologists to obtain a minimum of 36 hours of mandatory continuing education, including 9 hours of professional ethics, every 3 years.

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For additional information on any of the foregoing bills, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

 

 

During a year in which legislative activity was restrained by a variety of factors, most notably the Senate’s inability to maintain a consistent majority, the New York State Legislature nonetheless still passed 641 bills, several of which would affect the pharmaceutical sector. While the Governor has until the end of the year to consider and act on these proposals, we wanted to provide a brief summary of this legislation as it currently stands.

Drug Take Back Act (S.9100 by Senator Hannon / A.9576-B Assemblywoman Gunther): This bill would establish a statewide pharmaceutical take back program that would be overseen by the Department of Health. Pharmaceutical manufacturers engaged in the manufacture of covered drugs sold in New York would be required to either individually or jointly develop, and fully fund all administrative and operational fees associated with this take back program.

Under this legislation, the definition of “covered drugs” includes substances recognized under 21 USC §321 (g) (1) that are sold or offered for sale in NYS, but does not include:

  •  drugs used in the clinical setting;
  •  biological drugs if the manufacturer already provides a take back program;
  •  drugs that are already part of a manufacturer FDA managed Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) program;
  •  emptied injector products or emptied medical devices and their component parts or accessories;
  • vitamins, supplements and herbal remedies;
  • cosmetics;
  • soaps and shampoos;
  • household cleaning products;
  • sunscreens;
  • personal care products;
  • pet pesticide products contained in collars, powders, shampoos or other topical applications.

Affected manufacturers would be required to submit a proposed drug take back plan to the Department of Health (DOH) for approval which specifies their intent to either:

  • operate a program individually or jointly with other manufacturers;
  • enter into an agreement with a take back organization to operate and implement a take back program; or
  • enter into an agreement with DOH to operate a program on its own behalf.

Manufacturers of covered drugs must submit their proposed plan to DOH within 180 days after the bill is signed into law. The proposed plan must:

  • ensure the program will take back all covered drugs, regardless of who produces them;
  • include contact information for the person charged with submitting and overseeing the manufacturer take back initiative;
  • detail how the program will provide convenient, geographically distributed, ongoing collection services to all individuals wishing to dispose of such items;
  • describe other collection efforts by which covered drugs are collected;
  • explain how covered drugs will be safely and securely tracked and handled during the collection, disposal and destruction process;
  • outline the public education and outreach activities, including advertising of locations on a website, signage, other written materials and how effectiveness will be evaluated;   
  • detail how the cost of pharmacy collection will be reimbursed, retroactive to the effective date of legislation, and if there is more than one manufacturer involved in the take back program, a plan for fair and reasonable allocation of costs that is reasonably related to the volume or value of covered drugs sold in NY.

The DOH, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Conservation, will review and determine if the manufacturer take back plan meets the program requirements within 60 days of receipt and will notify the manufacturer of their decision in writing.  If the plan is not approved, the manufacturer will have 30 days to submit a revised plan to DOH. If a subsequent plan is rejected by DOH, the manufacturer(s) will be out of compliance with take back statutory requirements and will be subject to enforcement provisions. The DOH will put a list on their website of all manufacturers that are participating in an approved drug take back program and will update this website annually.    

Moreover, affected manufacturers are required to update their drug take back program at least once every three years and to submit an updated proposal to DOH.  Any proposed change to the take back program must be submitted in writing and approved by DOH.

Additionally, a manufacturer who begins to offer a covered drug after the effective date of this bill, is required to notify the DOH they have joined an existing approved take back program or submit a proposal to operate a take back program within 90 days after the initial sale of the covered drug.

Each approved take back program is required to submit a report, at a date and in a manner set forth by DOH. The DOH is then required to submit an annual report to the Legislature which details:

  • all drug take back program activities;
  • the weight collected by each program;
  • a description of collection activities;
  • the name and location of all collection sites;
  • public education and outreach activities;
  • evaluation of efficacy of the program and each collection method; and
  • manufacturers that are out of compliance or subject to penalties.

This legislation would also require all pharmacy chains that operate 10 or more establishments and all registered non-resident pharmacies that provide covered drugs to state residents by mail, to offer one or more of the following take back options to consumers:

  • on-site collection,
  • drop box or receptacle;
  • mail back collection by voucher for a prepaid envelope; or
  • any other federal DEA approved collection methods.

Participation in the drug take back program by other authorized collectors is voluntary. All program costs incurred by pharmacies and other authorized collectors will be paid or reimbursed by the affected manufacturers, either jointly or individually.

Additionally, the Commissioner of Health will establish a drug take back distribution plan by regulation for cities with a population of 125,000 or more that ensures collection receptacle placement is accessible yet provides for program cost efficiency.

Lastly, this legislation preempts any county/municipal action on drug take back and includes language to clarify the jurisdiction of all matters relating to drug disposal is vested at the State level.   

Reclassification of Controlled Substances by Regulation (A.10468-B by Assemblymember Ryan / S.8275-B by Senator Jacobs): This bill would allow the Commissioner of Health to reclassify any drug (compound, mixture or preparation) containing any substance listed in Schedule I of §3306 of the Public Health Law as a Schedule II, III, IV, or V substance, or exempt it from the schedules entirely, by regulation or emergency regulation instead of through the enactment of legislation, as is currently required.  The Commissioner of DOH would only be able to reclassify or delete drugs that have been similarly reclassified or deleted under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The Commissioner would be permitted to reclassify drugs to the same numbered schedule or a higher numbered schedule. This bill seeks to increase treatment options for those seeking compassionate care, and corrects a long-standing barrier that sometimes resulted in inconsistencies between the federal and state schedules.

Medical Marihuana as Alternative Treatment for Pain and Substance Use Disorder (S8987-A by Senator Amedore / A. 11011-B by Assemblymember Gottfried (Rules): This legislation would help provide alternative treatment options for pain management and substance use disorder by including “pain that degrades health and functional capability where the use of medical marihuana is an alternative to opioid use” and “substance use disorder” to the list of qualifying conditions for patients to access medical marihuana.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * * *

It is unclear when and how the Governor will act on these bills.  However, all of these issues have been the focus of increased attention and advocacy this year.  As discussed in our previous post, the Governor must consider and act upon these bills by the end of 2018.  The Governor may also negotiate any additional language or “chapter amendments” he believes may be necessary to fully implement such provisions.

For additional information on any of the foregoing bills, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

The scheduled 2018 New York State Legislative Session concluded last week amid many of the same speculations and controversies that have characterized all of the Legislature’s activities in recent years.  Once again, much of the activity turned on the Legislature’s tense relationship with the Governor, ongoing questions about control of the Senate, and a backdrop of corruption trials that continue to erode public confidence in State government.  This year, legislative activity was more constrained than usual, owing to the Senate’s inability to maintain a commanding majority on a consistent basis, which was attributable to the recent dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference and the absence of one majority Senator serving in the United States Navy.  While the Senate was not entirely paralyzed, and at one point even accomplished a rare override of a gubernatorial veto, many legislative initiatives that were anticipated to move did not.

But even in this challenging year, many bills were passed in the health and mental hygiene space.  Examples include:

  •  Pharmacy:  The Legislature passed bills requiring manufacturers engaged in the manufacture of covered drugs sold in New York State to develop and operationalize a statewide pharmaceutical take back program, and authorizing the reclassification of controlled substances by regulation rather than by statute.
  •  Hospitals:  Legislation was passed that would require the Department of Health (DOH) to establish a sexual assault victim bill of rights, which hospitals must provide to every sexual offense victim presenting at the hospital.  Other legislation would authorize hospitals to establish standing orders for nurses caring for newborns, allow a nurse practitioner to witness and serve as a health care proxy, establish new standards for clinical laboratory supervision, and require the Office of Mental Health to supply educational materials to hospitals regarding discharge planning for individuals with mental health disorders.
  • Long Term Care:  Bills were passed related to virtually all aspects of the long term care continuum, including bills allowing residents of an assisted living program to access hospice services, requiring DOH to provide written notice to residents of adult care facilities when a temporary operator has been appointed, and clarifying the scope of the long term care ombudsman program.
  • Behavioral Health:  The Legislature approved bills related to maternal depression, the mental health impacts of tick-borne diseases, geriatric mental health services, and suicide prevention, among other mental health issues.  Bills passed in the substance use disorder space include a bill making it a crime for providers of substance abuse services to offer or accept kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals, a bill requiring the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to provide information to school districts regarding the misuse and abuse of alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication and other drugs, and a bill allowing the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids.
  • Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities:  Bills passed in this space include bills to establish identification cards for individuals with developmental disabilities, to allow individuals with developmental disabilities to be accompanied by staff of the same gender when utilizing transportation, to require 85% of the proceeds from the sale of Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) property to be used for state-operated residential or community services, to prohibit OPWDD from changing the auspice of any individualized residential alternative that is operated by the state, and to study and improve outreach concerning autism spectrum disorder.
  • Public Health: A number of the bills passed this session did not deal with specific types of providers, but rather addressed more general public health concerns.  Among these bills were a bill prohibiting discrimination in the provision of insurance based on the fact that an insured is a living organ or tissue donor and authorizing family leave to provide care during transplant preparation and recovery, bills prohibiting smoking in private homes where licensed child care services are provided or within 100 feet of library entrances, further restricting minors’ access to tanning facilities, a bill restricting minors’ access to electronic cigarettes, and bills addressing prostate cancer, Lyme disease, lupus, lymphedema, and lead poisoning.

Each of the bills mentioned above, and many others, now await action by the Governor, and it remains possible that the Legislature will return this year – possibly even in the very near future – to act on additional priority legislation that could not be moved before the conclusion of the scheduled session.  Once a bill is passed by the Legislature, it can be sent to the Governor for action at any point prior to the end of the calendar year, and in practice the bills are sent in several batches over the remainder of the year.  The Governor and Legislature work together to coordinate the timing of those batches, to ensure that the Governor’s staff has adequate time to review each bill and brief the Governor on it.

Once a bill is sent, the Governor has ten days to either approve it or veto it (not including Sundays); if by some chance the Governor fails to act (a very rare occurrence), the bill becomes law.  The only exception to these rules occurs at the end of the year, when the Governor is given thirty days to act, and the failure to act constitutes a veto (the so-called “pocket veto”).

If he vetoes a bill, the Governor will produce a veto message explaining his position.  He may also provide an approval message explaining his position on bills he has approved.  Where a bill comes close to something that the Governor could approve, but the Governor does not want to approve it in its current form, it is not uncommon for the Governor to negotiate “chapter amendments” with the Legislature, pursuant to which the Governor agrees to sign the bill in return for a promise from the Senate and Assembly that they will pass additional legislation at the next available opportunity to amend the bill language to address the Governor’s concerns.

This article represents the first in a series that will review the key bills in each of the foregoing categories in more detail, including both the bills listed above and others.  At this time, in most cases it is impossible to say with certainty how the Governor will act on each bill, but where appropriate, we will provide our best guess.  In the meantime, if you have any questions concerning the foregoing, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

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.

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.