The Compassionate Care Act has expanded and changed each year since Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed it into law in 2014 and 2018 was no different.

Among others, one big change that was made to the Medical Marijuana Program was the addition of opioid replacement as a qualifying condition[1] for medical marijuana. As a result of this change, patients with severe pain that doesn’t meet the definition of chronic pain can use medical marijuana as a replacement for opioids. The regulation also added opioid use disorder as an associated condition, allowing patients with opioid use disorder who are enrolled in a certified treatment program to use medical marijuana as an opioid replacement.

In 2019, New Yorkers will continue to see changes and tweaks to the Medical Marijuana Program as the State aims to improve the program. Change may also be on the horizon with respect to recreational marijuana use in New York State.

Medical Marijuana Update

On November 14, 2018, the New York State Department of Health published its Medical Use of Marijuana Under the Compassionate Care Act Two-year Report – 2016-2018. The purpose of the report is to provide an overview of the program’s activities since the last two-year report was published in 2016. You can view the Report for the years 2014-2016 by clicking here.

In the 2018 Report the DOH recommends “expanding the medical marijuana program to reach patients who may be self- medicating with marijuana from sources that are not regulated or held to the same high-quality standards as the medical marijuana products manufactured by registered organizations in New York State.”

In order to expand the program the DOH lists nine steps it will endeavor to undertake, some of which New Yorkers will likely see in 2019.

One of the changes the DOH wishes to make in order to expand and improve the program is to afford practitioners more clinical discretion in determining whether or not to certify patients for medical marijuana, based on an evaluation of the patient’s condition, past treatment and the overall risks versus benefits for each patient.

In addition, the DOH wants to increase the number of practitioners available to certify patients, by permitting all prescribers of controlled substances to humans to participate in the program. This is a change from current regulations that only allow physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to certify patients to use medical marijuana.

In the 2018 Report the DOH also recommends increasing the number of caregivers for each certified patient to five caregivers per patient in hopes that this will allow for increased flexibility for families in providing care to their loved ones. Currently the number of caregivers for each certified patient is capped at two.

Recreational Marijuana Update

Nine states, plus Washington D.C., have all fully legalized marijuana use. As we had noted in New York May Consider Recreational Marijuana Legalization, in his January 2018 budget address Governor Cuomo called for an assessment of the possible impact of regulating marijuana in New York State. The Governor directed certain New York State agencies to evaluate the health, public safety, and economic impact of legalizing marijuana.

In July 2018, the DOH published its findings in the “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State.” Overall, the DOH indicated that it would be in favor of the establishment of a regulated marijuana program.

The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts. Areas that may be a cause for concern can be mitigated with regulation and proper use of public education that is tailored to address key populations. Incorporating proper metrics and indicators will ensure rigorous and ongoing evaluation.

A full summary of the DOH’s findings can be found in our previous blog post, NYS Department of Health Report Green Lights Legalization of Marijuana.

Following the issuance of the Report Governor Cuomo held Regulated Marijuana Listening Sessions, the purpose of which was to gather input from community members on the possible enactment of a regulated marijuana program in New York State. The Listening Sessions were held across New York State during September and October.

On November 21, 2018, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo confirmed that creating a framework for legalizing adult marijuana use is among the administration’s 2019 legislative priorities.

The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use marijuana – and we determined the best way to do that was to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” said Tyrone Stevens, a spokesperson for the Governor. “Now that the listening sessions have concluded, the working group has begun accessing and reviewing the feedback we received and we expect to introduce a formal comprehensive proposal during the 2019 legislative session.

 

[1] Opioid replacement joins the following 12 qualifying conditions under the state’s Medical Marijuana Program: cancer; HIV infection or AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; spinal cord injury with spasticity; epilepsy; inflammatory bowel disease; neuropathy; Huntington’s disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; and chronic pain.

As New Yorkers are preparing for Thanksgiving and the official start to the holiday season (although some could argue it started a month ago), required Medicaid providers should also be reviewing their Compliance Programs in preparation to submit their Annual Provider Compliance Program Certification to the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (“OMIG”).  Required providers must submit a certification at the time of their enrollment and each December thereafter.

As defined by Social Services Law Section 363-d (“Section 363-d”) and Part 521 of Title 18 of the New York Code of Rules and Regulations (“Part 521”), required providers are considered any provider that can answer “Yes” to one of the following questions and therefore must implement a comprehensive Compliance Program:

  1. Is the provider organization subject to Article 28 or Article 36 of the NYS Public Health Law?
  2. Is the provider organization subject to Article 16 or Article 31 of the NYS Mental Hygiene Law?
  3. Does the provider organization claim or order, or can be reasonably expected to claim or order, Medicaid services or supplies of at least $500,000 in any consecutive 12-month period?
  4. Does the provider organization receive Medicaid payments, or can be reasonably expected to receive payments, either directly or indirectly, of at least $500,000 in any consecutive 12-month period?
  5. Does the provider organization submit Medicaid claims of at least $500,000 in any consecutive 12-month period on behalf of another person or persons?

There are two important concepts to be aware of when answering these questions.  First, as defined by the OMIG, Indirect Medicaid Reimbursement is any payment that a provider receives for the delivery of Medicaid care, services, or supplies that comes from a source other than the State of New York.  An example of this is when a provider provides covered services to a Medicaid beneficiary who is enrolled in a Medicaid Managed Care Plan, any payment from the Managed Care Organization is considered an indirect payment.

The second important concept is that the OMIG considers any consecutive 12-month period to be exactly that, any twelve consecutive months.  This determination should not be considered solely on a calendar year.  For example, if a provider established her practice on April 1, 2018 and will not reach $500,000 in either claims or payments by December 31, 2018 but can reasonably expect to hit that mark by March 2019, then that provider should have a Compliance Program in place and be prepared to certify to its implementation by December 31, 2018.

To assist providers, the OMIG’s website identifies seven compliance areas that a provider’s Compliance Program must apply to, as well as eight elements that should be included in all Compliance Programs, regardless of provider type.

The Seven Compliance Areas are:

  1. Billings;
  2. Payments;
  3. Medical necessity and quality of care;
  4. Governance;
  5. Mandatory reporting;
  6. Credentialing; and
  7. Other risk areas that are or should with due diligence be identified by the provider.

The Eight Elements required in every Compliance Program are:

Element 1: Establish written policies and procedures that clearly describe and implement compliance expectations, as well as provide guidance to employees and others on dealing with potential compliance issues.  The written policies and procedures must also identify how to communicate compliance issues to appropriate compliance personnel and describe how potential compliance problems are investigated and resolved.

Element 2: Designate a Compliance Officer who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Compliance Program.

Element 3: Establish an effective training and education program for all affected employees and persons associated with the provider, including executives and governing body members (“affected persons”).

Element 4: Establish clear lines of communication to the Compliance Officer that allow all affected persons report compliance issues.  Providers must also establish anonymous and confidential reporting systems.

Element 5: Establish disciplinary policies that are fairly and firmly enforced to encourage good faith participation in the Compliance Program by all affected persons.  The policies must include clear expectations for the reporting or and assistance in resolving compliance issues.  The policies must also include defined sanctions for:

  • failing to report suspected problems;
  • participating in non-compliant behavior; or
  • encouraging, directing, facilitating or permitting either actively or passively non-compliant behavior.

Element 6: Conduct routine compliance assessments for those risk areas specific to the individual provider type, including but not limited to self-audits. These self-audits can be conducted internally or a provider may choose to have an external party conduct the audit.

Element 7: Establish a system for responding to and investigating potential compliance problems as the Compliance Officer becomes aware of them, either by a report received from an affected person or as the result of an internal assessment.  Compliance Program must also establish systems for the provider to report compliance issues the OMIG, as well as repay any related overpayments.

Element 8: Establish a policy of non-intimidation and non-retaliation for good faith participation in the Compliance Program, including but not limited to reporting potential issues, investigating issues, self-evaluations, audits and remedial actions, and reporting to appropriate officials as provided in sections 740 and 741 of the New York State Labor Law.

As mentioned above, each December, required providers must submit a Provider Compliance Program Certification, attesting that they have a Compliance Plan in place and that Compliance Plan satisfies each of the OMIG’s Eight Elements.  If a provider is unable to unequivocally state that their plan meets these requirements then a certification should not be submitted and immediate steps must be taken to all necessary modifications to establish a satisfactory Compliance Plan.  Any provider who submits a false certification may be subject to sanctions, including monetary fines or provider enrollment termination.

If you are unsure whether your Compliance Plan would satisfy the OMIG’s Eight Elements, or if you are a provider who believes you are required to implement a Compliance Plan and have not done so, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

 

As recounted in our recent analysis of the 2018-19 New York State Budget (“Enacted Budget”), the Enacted Budget included new restrictions on fiscal intermediaries participating in the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (“CDPAP”) designed to prevent the dissemination of “false or misleading” advertisements.  Effective April 1, 2018, the newly enacted § 365-f(4-c) of the New York Social Services Law requires fiscal intermediaries to seek pre-approval for advertisements directed at Medicaid program recipients before they are released, and imposes escalating penalties for non-compliance – including revocation of the fiscal intermediary’s license to provide services after two or more false or misleading advertisements are distributed.

By way of background, the CDPAP program is a Medicaid program that allows chronically ill or physically disabled individuals to exercise a greater degree of control and choice with respect to the provision of essential services ranging from assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) to skilled nursing services.  The program – which allows recipients to hire almost anyone other than their spouse, child or parent to provide these services – provides a marked level of independence over traditional home care models where recipients must accept whatever provider is sent by the program’s vendor.  In addition to freedom of choice, CDPAP aides are able to perform a host of services that ordinarily can only be performed by nurses or certified home health aides.

Unlike traditional home care models, CDPAP aides are employed by the consumer.  Fiscal intermediaries help consumers facilitate their role as employer by: providing wage and benefit processing for consumer directed personal assistants; processing income tax and other required wage withholdings; complying with workers’ compensation, disability and unemployment requirements; maintaining personnel records; ensuring health status of assistants prior to service delivery; maintaining records of service authorizations or reauthorizations; and monitoring the consumer’s/designated representative’s ability to fulfill the consumer’s responsibilities under the program.

On June 26, 2018, the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, Inc. and various  fiscal intermediary members (collectively plaintiffs) filed a complaint against the New York State Department of Health (DOH) and its Commissioner Howard Zucker (Commissioner) (collectively defendants) in the Northern District of New York, alleging in sum and substance that § 365-f(4-c) violates their right to commercial free speech as protected by the New York and United States Constitutions.  Plaintiffs sought a temporary and permanent injunction enjoining defendants from implementing the new restrictions and a declaration that § 365-f(4-c) is unconstitutional.  See Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Association of New York State, Inc. et al v. Zucker et al, Index. No. 1:18-cv-00746.

More specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the advertisements regarding CDPAP are protected commercial speech because they concern a lawful activity and express the plaintiffs’ support for self-direction and consumer choice provided by the program and the requirement that they submit their advertisements for approval burdens, restricts and otherwise infringes upon those rights.  plaintiffs also claim that the DOH lacks a substantial interest in reviewing the advertisements and that prior approval of advertisements does not advance any legitimate governmental interest – particularly in light of the fact that the state already has laws governing false and deceptive advertising (i.e., General Business Law § 349).  Furthermore, the plaintiffs maintain that even if the DOH had a legitimate interest in preventing false and misleading advertisements, requiring prior approval is not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

As explained below, because plaintiffs moved for, and were denied, a preliminary injunction – prohibiting the DOH from implementing § 365-f(4-c)  until the legality of the new law can be fully decided – we now more or less know how this case will ultimately be decided.  In this case, as in all cases where preliminary relief is sought, it does not bode well for plaintiffs that the court denied the preliminary injunction, given that such relief is only withheld where the movant fails to establish a clear or substantial likelihood that they will ultimately be able to succeed on the merits.

In concluding that plaintiffs failed to establish a sufficient likelihood of success, the court applied the four-part inquiry laid out by the Supreme Court in Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980)), to determine whether § 365-f(4-c) is an impermissible regulation of commercial free speech in violation the First Amendment: “[1] whether the expression is protected by the First Amendment. For commercial speech to come within that provision, it at least must concern lawful activity and not be misleading. Next, we ask [2] whether the asserted governmental interest is substantial. If both inquiries yield positive answers, we must determine [3] whether the regulation directly advances the governmental interest asserted, and [4] whether it is not more extensive than is necessary to serve that interest.”

The parties did not dispute the first element.  With respect to the second element, the plaintiffs argued that had the State’s true purpose been to regulate false or misleading advertisement, such a purpose would be substantial, but here the true purpose for instituting the new restrictions was to decrease awareness of the CDPAP program in order to limit the State’s own expenditures on the program.  According to the plaintiffs, the evidence of the DOH’s ulterior motive was evident from the fact that the restrictions were passed as part of the Enacted Budget.  The court was not distracted by this argument, finding instead that where, as here, the statute’s intentions are facially obvious they need not consider such “extra-textual ‘evidence.’”  Even if the court had considered the issue, the fact that the restrictions were passed as part of the 2018-19 Executive Budget is hardly evidence that the restrictions are fiscally motivated.  Indeed, the Governor traditionally uses the budget process to advance his policy agenda, and the inclusion of § 365-f(4-c) appears to be no exception to that rule.  It is also worth noting that requiring vendors of Medicaid services to submit advertisements for approval is not a new phenomenon in New York.  Indeed, Managed Long Term Care plans have long been subject to such requirements – both as part of their contracts with the State and in regulation.  We are unaware of any claim that such a program was intended to, or has resulted in a decrease in enrollment in these plans.

The court also gave short shrift to the plaintiffs’ arguments regarding the fourth element – whether the restrictions were more extensive than necessary.  Although the plaintiffs and the court would agree that less restrictive means are available, the standard does not require that the Legislature implore the least restrictive means conceivable, only one that is reasonable and in proportion to the interest to be served.

Ultimately, the resolution of this case will likely turn on the evidence marshaled by both sides in support of the third element – whether the regulation directly advances the State’s interest in preventing false and misleading advertising by CDPAP fiscal intermediaries.  As noted by the court, for purposes of this element, “a governmental body seeking to sustain a restriction on commercial speech must demonstrate that the harms it recites are real and that its restriction will in fact alleviate them to a material degree.”  The State need not “produce empirical data . . . accompanied by a surfeit of background information” in order to meet its burden in this respect, and can rely instead on “reference to studies and anecdotes pertaining to different locales altogether.”

Here, the DOH tendered an affidavit of Donna Frescatore, the Medicaid Director of New York State and Deputy Commissioner of DOH to meet its burden.  Deputy Commissioner Frescatore noted, inter alia, that CDPAP recipients must be able to rely on the materials they receive to evaluate and choose the best available options and that false and misleading advertising not only complicates this process, it often leads ineligible individuals to request services, burdening local authorities.  Mrs. Frescatore also identified a host of “[e]xamples of advertisements that misstate, misrepresent, or overstate what the [Fiscal Intermediaries] and CDPAP provide have: [1] failed to explain that Medicaid eligibility is required to receive services; [2] suggested that CDPAP pays people to stay at home; [3] stressed that no training is required, without explaining that the consumer is responsible for training their assistants through CDPAP; [4] failed to explain that the service has to be a Medicaid covered service to be obtained through CDPAP; and [5] included services like dog walking and escort services when in actuality, such services are rarely, if ever,. . . covered by Medicaid.”

At oral argument, the DOH confirmed to the court that these were examples of advertisements that the DOH had actually seen – a contention they will now have to prove.  Should the DOH be unable to substantiate these claims, they may well find themselves unable to meet their burden on this issue.  Indeed, the court noted that while these representations are sufficient standing alone at this early point in the litigation, a different result may be warranted upon a more fully developed record.  For now, we will have to await the completion of discovery and the likely filing of a summary judgment motion(s) to know how this case will ultimately come down, a process that generally takes eight months to a year to complete in the Northern District of New York.

Having failed to secure the desired preliminary injunction, § 365-f(4-c) remains the law of the land.  In September of 2018, the DOH issued specific guidance on the program for all advertising by fiscal intermediaries on or after November 1, 2018.  According to the guidance, “inaccurate descriptions of the CDPAP program or the roles and responsibilities of CDPAP participants, designated representatives, fiscal intermediaries, and/or aides will be considered false or misleading.”  The guidance further prohibits cold-calling and door-to-door solicitation.

Advertisements may be submitted by email, however if the advertisement is a website, a hard-copy must also be submitted.  The DOH will have thirty days to review the advertisements, the advertisements may not be utilized by the provider until approved by the DOH or thirty days has passed without response from the DOH.  In the event an adverse decision is issued, the fiscal intermediary will have thirty days to appeal the decision, if the decision is upheld, however, the fiscal intermediary will be required to pay a penalty.

Advertising materials that were used prior to November 1, 2018 are not required to be submitted for review.  That being said, however, providers have the option of submitting such materials by December 31, 2018 for review and inclusion in the DOH’s “amnesty” program.  In the event that voluntarily submitted advertisement is found to be false or misleading the fiscal intermediary will be required to discontinue use of the advertisement within thirty days, but the advertisement will not count for purposes of determining whether to revoke the fiscal intermediary’s license for distributing two or more false or misleading advertisements.

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

 

Last week, in LeadingAge New York, Inc. v. Shah, the New York Court of Appeals addressed Department of Health regulations limiting executive compensation and administrative expenditures by healthcare providers receiving state funds. The Court upheld limits related to state funding, but struck down a limit that applied regardless of the source of funding.

In 2012, Governor Cuomo directed agencies providing state funding to service providers to regulate provider use of state funds for executive compensation and administrative costs. DOH responded with regulations restricting state-funded expenditures on administrative expenses and executive compensation for certain defined “covered providers.”

The regulations had two “hard caps,” one limiting administrative expenses to 15% of covered operating expenses paid with State funds, and one limiting the use of State funds for executive compensation to $199,000, absent a waiver. The regulations also had one “soft cap,” providing for penalties to a covered provider if executive compensation exceeded $199,000 from any source of funding, with specified exceptions concerning comparable provider compensation and board approval. Covered executives included those for whom salary and benefits were administrative expenses, and excluded clinical and program personnel.

Several petitioners challenged the regulations, including nursing homes, assisted-living programs, home-care agencies and trade associations.

The Court of Appeals grounded its decision in the separation of powers doctrine, which requires that “the Legislature make the critical policy decisions, while the executive branch’s responsibility is to implement those policies.” Chief Judge DiFiore looked to the Court’s prior decision in Boreali v. Axelrod for guidance in finding “the difficult-to-define line between administrative rule-making and legislative policy-making.”

The Court first reviewed the function of DOH, which manages state funds earmarked for public health, oversees the Medicaid program, and contracts with private entities. The Court said that DOH carries out these functions with the goal of ensuring that the limited public funding available be directed as efficiently as possible toward high-quality services.

The Court concluded that the hard cap regulations on both administrative expenses and executive compensation did not exceed DOH’s authority. The Legislature directed that DOH oversee the efficient expenditure of state health care funds. The hard caps are tied to the specific goal of efficiently directing state funds toward quality medical care for the public by limiting the extent to which state funds may be used for non-service-related salaries and disproportionately high administrative budgets. The Court found the hard cap regulations to be directly tied to the Legislative policy goal without subverting it in favor of unrelated public policy interests.

In contrast, the Court struck down the soft cap regulation, which restricted executive compensation over $199,000 regardless of funding source, because it represented “an unauthorized excursion by DOH beyond the parameters set by the Legislature.” The Court found that while the hard cap regulations capped the use of public funding, the soft cap imposed an overall cap on executive compensation, regardless of the funding source. “The soft cap thus pursues a policy consideration – limited executive compensation – that is not clearly connected to the objectives outlined by the Legislature but represents a distinct ‘value judgment.’” The soft cap restriction on executive compensation was not “sufficiently tethered” to the enabling legislation which largely concerned state funding. The Court concluded that the soft cap regulation exceeded DOH’s administrative authority as it envisioned the additional goal of limiting executive compensation as a matter of public policy.

All members of the Court of Appeals agreed that the hard cap on administrative expenditures was permissible, but the dissenting Judges differed on executive compensation.  Judge Garcia would have stricken both hard and soft caps on executive compensation, because they represented a “policy choice about reasonable compensation aimed at influencing corporate behavior,” which is “law-making beyond DOH’s regulatory authority.”  In contrast, Judge Wilson would had found both limits to be permissible.  He criticized the majority’s reliance on Boreali, and saw the proper analysis to be whether the regulation exceeded the executive power.  He would have used that rationale to uphold the hard cap on executive compensation, and also would have found the soft cap permissible because it advance the statutory goals of preventing providers from circumventing the hard cap and advising providers the State may allocate taxpayer funds away from undesireable or inefficient vendors and toward competitors who provide superior value.

At least where State funds are at issue, LeadingAge provides the Governor and executive agencies with broad authority to police and restrict the use of State funding.

 

            New York State does not require hospitals to insure medical malpractice claims, either through the purchase of commercial medical malpractice insurance or the establishment of an adequately funded self-insurance program.  New York has never required such insurance.  There are many hospitals which did not insure medical malpractice claims in the past, and a number that currently do not.

            Historically, the lack of insurance was often a matter of choice.  A number of community hospitals in the New York City area did not insure medical practice claims because they believed they would always be able to pay claims out of operations.  Others chose not to insure because they believed the lack of insurance improved their negotiating position with medical malpractice plaintiffs.  The hospitals would warn plaintiffs to settle their claims for what the hospitals considered reasonable amounts. If they did not, the hospitals would tell them that they would not be able to pay their claims and might have to resort to chapter 11 bankruptcy, where their malpractice claims would be general unsecured claims and receive pennies on the dollar.

            Attending physicians typically have malpractice insurance that covers claims against them individually for services they perform at the hospitals where they practice.  But physicians who are full-time employees of hospitals often do not have any individual malpractice insurance coverage; rather, they are dependent on their employers for it.

            Some hospitals, after “going bare” for a period of time and experiencing a large number of malpractice claims, are unable to purchase commercial medical malpractice insurance.  It is unclear whether they could have taken advantage of state programs established to enable them to purchase insurance for themselves and/or their physicians.  Although some of these hospitals set up self-insured programs, the programs were often inadequately funded.  When the hospitals experienced financial difficulties, the self-insurance reserves would often be used, in whole or in substantial part, to fund operating expenses.

            The lack of medical malpractice insurance or adequate self-insurance, needless to say, can be tragic for patients.  Patients may well be uninformed when admitted to a hospital that it is without medical malpractice insurance coverage or a sufficiently funded self-insurance program to fully compensate them if they are negligently injured during treatment or surgery.  Narratives of serious injuries caused by medical malpractice make for difficult reading, and an even worse ending if they cannot recover the damages to which they are entitled.

            Lack of malpractice insurance further raises issues for trade creditors, service providers and other unsecured creditors of the hospitals if the hospitals experience financial difficulties and file chapter 11.  Serious uninsured medical malpractice claims and large numbers of such claims, when added to the claims of other creditors, can greatly reduce the recovery of both malpractice claimants and business creditors in the chapter 11 cases of these hospitals.

            For more information, please contact Marty Bunin at 646-329-1982 or MBunin@FarrellFritz.com

New York State Court of Appeals, Albany, New York

Earlier this Summer, the Court of Appeals overturned the Appellate Division Third Department’s (the “Third Department”) unanimous decision in The Matter of Anonymous v. Molik, where it ruled that the New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs (“Justice Center”) exceeded its authority by substantiating a report against a facility or provider agency based upon a “concurrent finding” of neglect.[i]  With its decision, the Court of Appeals has not only clarified the Justice Center’s scope of authority, but also reopened the floodgates to a large number of investigations and appeals that have been existing in a state of limbo since the Third Department’s June 2, 2016 decision.[ii]

Pursuant to Executive Law §§ 551-562 and Social Services Law §§ 488-497, the Justice Center was established in 2013 to protect “vulnerable persons who receive care from New York State’s human services agencies.”[iii] It was created to protect all vulnerable persons, or those “who, due to physical or cognitive disabilities, or the need for services or placement, [are] receiving services from a facility or provider agency.”[iv]

All reportable incidents, including any allegation of neglect,[v] must be reported by a facility to the Statewide Vulnerable Persons’ Central Register (“VPCR”)[vi], whereby the Justice Center is mandated to investigate the allegation(s) and submit its findings to the VPCR.[vii]  The Justice Center’s findings are “based on a preponderance of the evidence and indicate whether the alleged abuse or neglect is substantiated in that it is determined the incident occurred and the subject of the report, facility or provider agency are responsible; or the allegation is found to be unsubstantiated because the event did not occur, or the subject of the report was found not responsible.”[viii] Additionally, the Justice Center may make “a concurrent finding . . . that a systemic problem [at the provider agency or facility] caused or contributed to the occurrence of the incident.”[ix]

In Molik, a male resident engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with a female resident after two staff members momentarily left a common room at the Petitioner’s facility.[x] This assault was the third incident in a six month period, with the previous two assaults being known to the Petitioner.[xi]  The Justice Center investigated the incident, but did not substantiate a report of neglect against the two individuals because “there were no policies or requirements in place prohibiting staff from leaving the room unattended while residents were gathered there.”[xii] However, since the male resident had previously engaged in similar conduct, the Justice Center substantiated a concurrent finding of neglect against the Petitioner, the operator of the residential facility, “for failing to implement clear staff supervision protocols and for failing to modify [the male resident’s] care plan to increase his level of supervision after the first two attacks.”[xiii]

The Petitioner requested that the Justice Center amend its finding to unsubstantiated, which was denied, leading to the Petitioner’s Article 78 action where it received unanimous support from the Third Department.[xiv]  In its decision, the Third Department overturned the Justice Center’s concurrent finding, stating that it did not have to “defer to the Justice Center’s interpretation of the statutory provisions in question . . . [but rather defer to the] pure statutory interpretation dependent only on accurate apprehension of legislative intent.”[xv] “[T]he only circumstance under which the Justice Center could substantiate a report of neglect against a facility or provider agency is where an incident of neglect has occurred but the subject cannot be identified — a situation that is plainly not present here.”[xvi] The Third Department continued by saying, while the Justice Center does, in fact, have the authority to make a concurrent finding, “the only concurrent finding that may be made is that a systemic problem caused or contributed to the occurrence of the incident.”[xvii] Accordingly, since the controlling statute did not provide the Justice Center with the clear ability to categorize a concurrent finding it necessarily followed that such a finding could not constitute neglect on the part of a provider agency.[xviii]

The Court of Appeals, however, did not share in the Third Department’s view, stating that courts may look beyond the literal text of a statute when “the plain intent and purpose of the statute would otherwise be defeated.”[xix] Consequently, the Court viewed the Petitioner’s, and the Third Department’s, narrow interpretation of the law as “leav[ing] the Justice Center powerless to address many systemic issues, defeating the purpose of the Act and preventing the Justice Center from protecting vulnerable persons where it is most critical to do so.”[xx]  The Court, in light of the particular underlying events in Molik, ruled that to uphold this construction “would perversely allow this dangerous cycle to continue: employee conduct could not be substantiated because it does not violate facility policies, but facility policies would remain ineffective because the Justice Center lacks authority to implement change.”[xxi]

In her dissenting opinion, Judge Rivera stated that she agreed with the majority that “[i]t would lead to absurd results if [N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 493(3)(a) were interpreted] to permit a facility or provider agency to be found responsible in those situations where an incident occurs and no subject can be identified, but not where an identified subject is found not responsible for a confirmed incident of abuse or neglect.”[xxii]  However, Judge Rivera points out that a ‘concurrent’ finding should be viewed as an ‘adjunct’, requiring that an initial finding of neglect must be made before a provider agency could be found to have concurrently committed neglect, even if the initial subject is ultimately found not responsible.[xxiii]  In Molik, as reasoned by Judge Rivera, the initial step of establishing a finding of abuse or neglect was never reached because the allegation of neglect against the two identified subjects was declared unsubstantiated; therefore, a ‘concurrent’ finding could not be made.[xxiv]

In a post-Molik world, it is imperative that all provider agencies subject to Justice Center oversight review their internal policies, procedures, and processes, understanding that they too are now clearly within the Justice Center’s reach.  Provider agencies should evaluate previous incidents that occurred within the facility to determine whether the necessary corrective actions have been taken or if further steps are needed.  Furthermore, staff training curriculum should be reevaluated to determine whether opportunities for improvement exist.

If you have any questions or would like additional information regarding the Justice Center, or would be interested in assistance reviewing, developing or revising your policies, processes, and training programs, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com

————————————————————————————————————————

[i] Anonymous v. Molik, 2018 WL 3147607 (N.Y. Jun. 28, 2018).

[ii] Matter of Anonymous v. Molik, 141 A.D.3d 162, (App. Div. 3 Dep’t, June 2, 2016)

[iii] 14 N.Y.C.R.R. § 700.1(a).

[iv] N.Y. Soc. Servs. Law § 488(14).

[v] 14 N.Y.C.R.R § 624.3(b)(8).

[vi] N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 492(1)(a).

[vii] Id. at (3)(c)(i); Id. at (3)(c)(viii); N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 493(1).

[viii] N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 492(3)(a).

[ix] Id. at (3)(b).

[x] Molik, 2018 WL 3147607 at *1.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id. at *2.

[xv] Molik, 141 A.D.3d. at 166 (internal citations omitted).

[xvi] Id. at 167 (citing N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 492(3)(a)).

[xvii] Id. at 167–168 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id. at *4.

[xx] Molik, 2018 WL 3147607 at *5.

[xxi] Id.

[xxii] Id. at 8

[xxiii] Id. at 9.

[xxiv] Id. at 10.

 

Just over one year ago, I wrote about the Department of Health and Human Service’s (“HHS”) $105 million award to support 1,333 federally qualified health centers (“Health Centers”) across the United States improve the quality of comprehensive care provided to patients. It seems like déjà vu, as it was announced last month that HHS set aside $125 million in quality improvement grants to be allocated among 1,352 Health Centers. A list of recipients can be found here.

Health Centers receive funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”), a branch of the federal government with a primary purpose of delivering comprehensive healthcare to patients who cannot otherwise afford such care. Treatments offered at Health Centers, include, without limitation, physician services, homebound visits by nurses in geographic locations where home health agencies are sparse, and clinical psychology services. The overarching goals set by HRSA with respect to Health Centers are to:

  • Make available high quality healthcare treatments and ancillary services, including education and transportation to facilities;
  • Offer care at affordable rates and charge patients in accordance with a practical scale;
  • Have community stakeholders serve on the governing boards to communicate the specific needs of the locality; and
  • Create a patient-centered foundation to address the diverse needs of the medically underserved.

In accordance with those goals, the grants are designed to improve Health Centers. Specifically, the funds will be used for “[e]xpanding access to comprehensive care, improving care quality and outcomes, increasing comprehensive care delivery in a cost-effective way, addressing health disparities, advancing the use of health information technology, and delivering patient-centered care.”

Speaking on the new grants and reflecting on the preceding year, HRSA Administrator George Sigounas, MS, Ph.D., said “[n]early all HRSA-funded health centers demonstrated improvement in one or more clinical quality measures from the year prior, and these funds will support health centers’ work to improve the quality of care they deliver in their communities around the country.”

As healthcare costs continue to rise in many parts of the country, eligible patients have an alternative route to obtain affordable healthcare without the burdens associated with visiting the local hospital. Health Centers are a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy healthcare system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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