In United States ex rel. Wood v. Allergan, Inc., the Second Circuit addressed the issue of whether a violation of the False Claims Act’s “first-to-file” rule compels dismissal of an action or whether it can be cured by the filing of an amended or supplemental pleading. The Court’s acceptance of the interlocutory appeal was addressed here in a post last year. In August, the Second Circuit reversed the District Court, holding that a violation of the first-to-file bar cannot be remedied by amending or supplementing the complaint.

Relator John Wood brought FCA claims against Allegan, a pharmaceutical company that develops and manufactures eye care prescription drugs. Wood alleged that Allergan violated the FCA and the Anti-Kickback Statute by providing large quantities of free medical products to physicians to entice them to prescribe Allergan drugs. When Wood brought his action, two other actions alleging similar FCA violations were pending.

The Initial Qui Tam Complaint Violated the “First-to-File” Bar

The FCA’s “first-to-file” rule states that once a qui tam action has been brought, no person other than the Government may intervene or bring a related action based on the same facts. The first-to-file rule ensures that only one relator shares in the Government’s recovery and encourages potential relators to file their claims promptly. Because two prior actions were pending when Wood filed his qui tam complaint, it ran afoul of the first-to-file bar.

The Wood complaint, however, was under seal, and while it remained under seal, the two prior actions were dismissed. When the government declined to intervene in the Wood action and the case was unsealed, there were no longer any prior-filed pending actions. Wood thereafter filed a third amended complaint. Allergan moved to dismiss on several grounds, including the “first-to-file” bar, because when the Wood qui tam complaint was commenced, there were two pending actions alleging the same factual allegations.

The Second Circuit first held that the first-to-file rule applied, rejecting Wood’s argument that the earlier actions failed to adequately allege an FCA claim. Even if Wood’s allegations were broader than the prior complaints, the claims were related, as the alleged schemes were sufficiently similar, and the Government would have been equipped to investigate them. In addition, the Court rejected as unworkable the argument that the Judge in a later-filed case could address the sufficiency of an earlier-filed case pending before a different Judge, potentially even before the first Judge had done so.

An Amended Pleading Cannot “Cure” a First-to-File Violation

In Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, the Supreme Court had held that “an earlier suit bars a later suit while the earlier suit remains undecided but ceases to bar that suit once it is dismissed,” dismissing the later filed action without prejudice. Wood therefore would have been able to commence a new action once the two prior actions had been dismissed. However, due to the passage of time, statutes of limitation would have barred a new action.  Wood argued that the first-to-file bar could be “cured” by amending or supplementing the complaint after dismissal of the earlier actions. Other Circuits have split on this question.

The Second Circuit followed a D.C. Circuit decision to hold that Wood’s “action was incurably flawed from the moment he filed it.” The Court found that the plain language of the FCA provides that no individual may bring a related action when an FCA action is pending, and that the plain language required dismissal. The Court determined that Wood’s position—a first-to-file violation can be cured by a later amendment—is inconsistent with the language of the statute. The Court reasoned that the statute bars a person from bringing a related action when a prior FCA action is pending; it does not provide for the second action to be stayed until the first-filed action is no longer pending. An amended or supplemented pleading could not change the fact that Wood brought the action when another related action was pending.

The Court also posited several inefficiencies from Wood’s suggested approach: inequities among Relators with later-filed complaints depending on the happenstance of when their complaint was dismissed or whether their case was stayed; questions as to which later-filed case would proceed; and a potential lineup of later-filed cases waiting to take the place of a dismissed earlier action. Finally, the Court found support in legislative history, indicating that the primary, if not sole, purpose of the first-to-file rule is to help the Government uncover and fight fraud. The Court found it unlikely that Congress would have invited an inefficient process prone to anomalous outcomes, dependent on the chance considerations of one Court’s backlog and another Court’s timeliness of dismissal.

This Second Circuit decision, following the D.C. Circuit, now conflicts with a First Circuit decision finding the argument that amendment cannot cure a first-to-file violation to be “untenable.”  The Supreme Court may be called on to decide this Circuit split.

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.

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.

As we noted in previous blogs, the New York State Legislature has addressed a number of significant hospital related issues during the 2018 session, including indigent care funding (discussed here), the third iteration of the Statewide Health Care Facility Transformation Program (discussed here) and the funding of the Health Care Transformation Fund in connection with the acquisition of a New York-based payor Fidelis (discussed here). Yet, just like the legislative session, momentum on hospital related issues seems to have slowly fizzled out.  Between the enactment of the 2018-19 Budget (discussed at length here) and the close of session only a small number of the bills that made it through both houses directly addressed hospitals.  The following hospital related bills currently await the Governor’s signature, veto or amendment.   

Discharge of Patients with Mental Health Issues: (S.8769 by Senator Ortt/A.10644 Assemblymember Gunther) – This bill Requires the Office of Mental Health (OMH) to develop educational materials to be provided to individuals who have or appear to have a mental health disorder at the time they are discharged from a hospital and provide such materials to general hospitals across the state.  Pursuant to the bill, OMH, in cooperation with the Department of Health (DOH), must:

  • provide guidance to all general hospitals regarding the utilization of new or existing policies and procedures for the identification, assessment and referral of individuals with a documented mental health disorder or who appear to have or be at risk for a mental health disorder;
  • establish and implement training for all individuals licensed or certified pursuant to Title Eight of the Education Law who provide direct patient care regarding the policies and procedures developed pursuant to the bill.

If a general hospital does not directly provide mental health disorder services, then OMH and DOH will provide the necessary information to refer individuals in need of such services to, and coordinate with, mental health service programs licensed under Article 31 of the Mental Hygiene Law that provide such services.

Hospital and Nursing Home Bond Bill: (S.8648 by Senator Hannon/A.10673 Assemblymember Paulin) –  This bill increases the authorization of the Dormitory Authority of New York (DASNY) to issue hospital and nursing home project bonds and notes from $15.8 billion to $16.6 billion.   To date, DASNY – which provides funding mortgage loans and project loans to not-for-profit hospitals and nursing home corporations through bonds authorized by the Medical Care Facilities Finance Act (MCFFA) – has already issued bonds exceeding $14.8 billion, and has an additional $840 million in bond financing projects in its pipeline.  This would be the third increase under the MCFFA since its inception; the Legislature granted $800 million extensions in 2009 and 2011.

Sexual Assault Victim’s Bill of Rights: (A.8401C by Assemblymember Simotas / S.8977 Senator Hannon) – This bill requires the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), the Office of Victim Services, hospitals and other health care providers and victim advocacy organizations to publish a Sexual Assault Victim Bill of Rights, informing victims of sexual assault of their rights under state law.  More specifically the Bill of Rights:

  • will be prominately published on the DCJS’s website, in the ten most commonly spoken languages in New York, and updated by DCJS as state law changes;
  • hospitals will be required to provide the Bill of Rights to every presenting sexual offense victim; and
  • must include a plain English explanation that the victim has the right to:
    • consult with a local rape crisis or victim assistance organization, or have such organization summoned by the hospital or authorities on their behalf, and have a representative of such organization accompany the victim through the sexual offense examination;
    • certain post-exposure treatment therapies, including a seven day starter pack of HIV prophylaxis, at no cost;
    • a health care forensic examination at no cost, as well as the right to decline seeking coverage for the same from their own insurance company and have the procedure be reimbursed instead through the Office of Victim Services;
    • receive information regarding the provision of emergency contraceptives;
    • be offered contact information for the law enforcement or prosecutorial agency with jurisdiction over the offense and its prosecution, and to be informed, upon request, of the date and location at which such sexual offense evidence kit was assessed for Combined DNA Index System eligibility and whether or not a DNA profile match was identified (though law enforcement will have the ability to delay release of the suspect’s information to the victim in appropriate circumstances);
    • be notified between 10 and 30 days prior to the transfer of a sexual offense evidence kit from the hospital to another storage facility;
    • be notified of their right to have their sexual offense evidence kit maintained at an appropriate storage facility for at least 20 years from collection, and the right to be notified by such facility at least 90 days before the expiration of the storage period;
    • to decide whether or not to report the offense to law enforcement

Importantly, prior to commencing a physical examination or commencing an interview of a sexual offense victim, a medical provider or law enforcement entity must inform the victim of the Bill of Rights, provide a copy of the same, and offer to explain the Bill of Rights to the victim.

Standing Orders for the Care of Newborns: (A.9950B Assemblymember Gottfried/S.8774-B Senator Hannon) –   This bill aims to clarify confusion surrounding the utilization by hospitals of standing orders governing the care of healthy newborn infants by registered nurses.  The Legislature expressed concern that such standing orders were not being widely used as a result of confusion over their legality.  The bill provides that hospitals may utilize non-patient specific standing orders for the care of healthy newborns by attending registered nurses when directed by the attending practitioner, or when the attending nurse determines it would be clinically appropriate and consistent with hospital policies and procedures, provided that the following requirements and conditions are met:

  • the standing order must include the circumstances under which departure from the order is required due to the health of the baby, mother, or both;
  • an attending nurse may determine that a departure from the standing order is required prior to receiving direction from the attending practitioner, so long as such an action is within his or her lawful scope of practice and the policies and procedures of the hospital;
    • to the extent an attending nurse determines a departure is necessary, he or she must notify the attending practitioner;
  • the standing order must provide, the times and manner that an attending practitioner shall review and acknowledge in writing the services and care provided to the newborn under the standing order and the newborn’s condition;
  • a standing order may provide for circumstances in which it shall not be implemented , or implemented only at the order of an attending practitioner, including in circumstances involving insufficient prenatal care; a birth not attended by an attending practitioner, a birth that occurs outside of the hospital, or premature or low birthweight; and,
  • a standing order must be dated, timed, and authenticated promptly in the patient’s medical record by the attending practitioner in keeping with the laws, regulations and rules and procedures of the hospital;

Standing orders may only be implemented if the implementing hospital:

  • establishes that the order has been reviewed and approved by the hospital’s medical staff and nursing and pharmacy leadership, and signed by a physician affiliated with the hospital (or by a midwife associated with the hospital in the case of a midwifery birth center);
  • demonstrates that the order is consistent with the nationally recognized evidence-based guidelines; and,
  • ensures that the periodic and regular review of the order is conducted by the hospital’s medical staff and nursing and pharmacy leadership to determine the continuing usefulness and safety of the order.

Furthermore, all standing orders must be consistent with the lawful scope of practice of a registered nurse, and are subject to further regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Health governing the terms, procedures and implementation of such orders.

Clinical Laboratory Supervision: (A.10781A by Assemblymember Gottfried / S.7521-A Senator Hannon) –  This bill establishes the supervisory requirements for clinical laboratories.  At present, clinical laboratories are required to have a supervisor physically present on site at all times.  The Legislature has expressed concern that such a requirement is far in excess of what is required under the federal Clinical Improvement Act, and compliance is too costly and onerous for hospitals – particularly those hospitals in rural and upstate locations.  This bill seeks to reduce the cost of compliance by allowing supervision via phone or synchronous 2-way AV communication, and by allowing a single supervisor to oversee up to five laboratories.   More specifically, pursuant to this bill:

  • each clinical laboratory must have at least one or more supervisors available to oversee the technical personnel and reporting of findings, the performance of tests requiring special scientific skills, and be responsible for the proper performance of all laboratory procedures in the absence of the laboratory’s director;
  • a person is qualified to act as a supervisor if:
    • they are qualified to act as a director pursuant to regulations promulgated under 573 of the Public Health Law;
    • additionally, the DOH has discretion to allow a director to also serve as the supervisor, depending on the size and functions of the lab;
  • the supervisor must be on site or available by phone or two-way synchronous electronic audio visual communications (pursuant to yet to be drafted regulations on the subject);
  • where the supervisor is off site, and the person performing the test qualifies as a medical technologist pursuant to regulations promulgated under § 574, 576 and 3121 of the Public Health Law, the results of such work must be reviewed by the supervisor or director during his or her next duty period and a record of such review must be maintained; and
  • technical personnel in the specialty of cytology must be supervised by an individual qualified pursuant to regulations promulgated under § 574, 576 and 3121 of the Public Health Law.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Broadest Impact:  2018-19 NYS Managed Care Budget Highlights

This, the last of our posts on the 2018-19 New York State Health Budget (the “Enacted Budget”), focuses on an area of healthcare that has perhaps the broadest impact of the sector as a whole — managed care.  A prior post in the series (here) discussed the central role that hospitals have traditionally played in healthcare reform efforts, but even they have less influence (at least, as a matter of policy) than managed care, which controls the funding that fuels virtually every other part of the healthcare system.  For purposes of this article, “managed care” really means Medicaid managed care in all its various guises, since that is the funding most directly controlled by the State – while the various forms of Medicare managed care (Medicare Advantage, Medicare Part D, etc.) and commercial managed care are important, and even critical, to the healthcare system in New York, they are generally not a focus of State budgeting (at least directly).  So this post will focus on the various forms of Medicaid managed care, including managed long term care (MLTC) that provide long term care services, fiscal intermediaries for consumer-directed consumer assistance, mainstream managed care plans that provide acute and primary care services, health homes that coordinate care for people with chronic illnesses, and others.  Note that one species of Medicaid managed care, Development Disabilities Individual Support and Care Coordination Organizations, are not addressed in this post, but were addressed in a prior one (here).

Just a quick word before examining the key provisions impacting managed care:  this series has not pretended to be a comprehensive analysis of all the healthcare provisions in the 2018-19 New York State Health Budget.  It has merely provided a survey of the highlights of certain key areas in the healthcare space.  Inevitably, some areas have not been directly addressed; particular ones that come to mind include primary care, professional practice, life science research and others.  In part, this was due to the lack of significant reforms in those areas; however, it was also true that the sectors we did address often included references to those other sectors.  Nowhere is this truer than in regard to managed care, which, as noted, touches on every other area of healthcare.  Key provisions in the managed care space are summarized below.

Managed Long Term Care & Fiscal Intermediaries

Managed Long Term Care (MLTC) Eligibility.  Since 2012, adults have been eligible for MLTC enrollment if they require community-based care for more than 120 days.  The Enacted Budget provides that, effective April 1, such individuals are only eligible if that 120 days is a continuous, not aggregate, period.

Changing MLTC Plans.  Effective October 1, 2018, the Enacted Budget allows MLTC enrollees to switch plans without cause anytime within 90 days of notification or the effective date of enrollment (whichever is later), but thereafter, the Department of Health (DOH) is authorized to prohibit changing plans more than once every 12 months, except for good cause.  “Good cause” includes poor quality of care, lack of access to covered services, and lack of access to providers “experienced in dealing with the enrollee’s care needs,” and may include other categories identified by the Commissioner of Health.

Nursing Home Resident Eligibility.  Effective April 1, 2018, the Enacted Budget provides that individuals who are permanently placed in a nursing home for a consecutive period of three months or more will not be eligible for MLTC, but instead will receive services on a fee-for-service basis.  In a side letter, DOH has promised to provide guidance highlighting information about an individual’s rights as a nursing home resident, nursing home and MLTC plan responsibilities, and supports for individuals who wish to return to the community.

Plan Mergers.  Effective April 1, 2018, surviving plans in a plan merger, acquisition or similar arrangement must submit a report to DOH within 12 months providing information about the enrollees transferred, a summary of which DOH will make available to the public.

Licensed Home Care Services Agency (LHCSA) Contracting.  As discussed in a prior post (here), beginning October 1, 2018, the Commissioner of Health may limit the number of LHCSAs with which an MLTC plan may contract, according to a formula tied to region, number of enrollees and timing (before or after October 1, 2019), with some exceptions.  In a side letter, DOH has indicated that it will issue guidance to assist both MLTC programs and LHCSAs in minimizing the disruption of care for Medicaid members and the impacted workforce from this initiative.

Fiscal Intermediary Advertising.  The Enacted Budget includes provisions that limit the advertising practices of fiscal intermediaries under the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP).  CDPAP provides chronically ill and/or physically disabled Medicaid enrollees receiving home care services with more flexibility and freedom of choice to obtain such services.  Fiscal intermediaries help consumers facilitate their role as employers 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 (in this regard, they are not truly managed care, although there are some similarities).  The Enacted Budget prohibits false or misleading advertisements by fiscal intermediaries.  Furthermore, fiscal intermediaries are now required to submit proposed advertisements to DOH for review prior to distribution, and are not permitted to disseminate advisements without DOH approval.  The DOH is required to render its decision on proposed advertisements within 30 days.  In the event DOH has determined the fiscal intermediary has disseminated a false or misleading advertisement, or if an advertisement has been distributed without DOH approval, the fiscal intermediary has 30 days to discontinue use and/or remove such advertisement.  If DOH determines a fiscal intermediary has distributed two or more advertisements that are false or misleading or not previously approved by DOH, the entity will be prohibited from providing fiscal intermediary services and its authorization will be revoked, suspended or limited.  Additionally, DOH will maintain a list of these entities and will make this list available to local departments of social service, health maintenance organizations, accountable care organizations and performing provider systems.  These limitations apply to marketing contracts entered into after April 1, 2018.

Fiscal Intermediary Reporting.  The Enacted Budget allows the Commissioner of Health to require fiscal intermediaries to provide additional information regarding the direct care and administrative costs of personal assistance services.  DOH may determine the type and amount of information that will be required, as well as the regularity and design of the reports.  These cost reports must be certified by the owner, administrator, chief administrative officer or public official responsible for the operation of the provider.  The DOH must provide at least 90 days’ notice of this report deadline.  If DOH determines the cost report is not complete or inaccurate, it must notify the provider in writing and specify the correction needed or information required.  The provider will have 30 days to respond to DOH’s request for supplementary information.  In the event a provider cannot meet this filing deadline, DOH may provide an additional 30 day extension if the provider sends written notice prior to the report due date which details acceptable reasons beyond their control which justify their failure to meet the filing deadline.

Mainstream Managed Care and Health Homes

Quarterly Meetings on Medicaid Managed Care Rates.  In a side letter, the Executive has committed to providing quarterly updates to the Legislature regarding Medicaid managed care rates, including the actuarial memorandum which, pursuant to statute, is provided to managed care organizations 30 days in advance of submission to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  This is intended to increase the transparency of Medicaid managed care rates.

Separate Rate Cells or Risk Adjustments for Specific Populations.  In a side letter, DOH has committed to exploring separate rate cells or risk adjustments for the nursing home, high cost/high need home and personal care, and Health and Recovery Plan (HARP) populations.  DOH will re-engage CMS regarding this reimbursement methodology with the assistance of health care industry stakeholders impacted by these changes (e.g. advocates, providers and managed care organizations).  This will hopefully lead to a fairer rate structure for plans serving higher-risk patients.

Health Homes Targets.  The Enacted Budget requires the Commissioner of Health to establish reasonable targets for health home participation by enrollees of special needs plans and other high risk enrollees of managed care plans to encourage plans and health homes to work collaboratively to achieve such targets.  The DOH was also empowered to assess penalties for failure to meet such participation targets where they believe such failure is due to absence of good faith and reasonable efforts.

Health Home Criminal History Checks.  The Enacted Budget requires criminal history checks for employees and subcontractors of health homes and any entity that provides community-based services to individuals with developmental disabilities or to individuals under 21 years old.

Health Home Reporting.  Similar to fiscal intermediaries (above) and LHCSAs (here), the Enacted Budget allows the Commissioner of Health to require health homes to report on the costs incurred to deliver health care services to Medicaid beneficiaries.

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So that concludes our series on the 2018-19 New York State Healthcare Budget.  If you have any questions or would like additional information on any of the above referenced issues, or any of the other items covered (or not covered) in the series, please do not hesitate to contact Farrell Fritz’s Regulatory & Government Relations Practice Group at 518.313.1450 or NYSRGR@FarrellFritz.com.

 

 

 

A Renewed Focus: 2018-19 NYS Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Budget Highlights

Since the beginning of the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo, there has been a strong emphasis on reform of the acute, primary, and long term care systems, and, particularly with the recent focus on the opioid crisis, that attention has extended to the behavioral care system, as well.  In contrast, reforms in the developmental disabilities system have been slower in coming, attributable to a variety of factors, including historical issues surrounding service mix and reimbursement, and legitimate concerns about client safety and quality of life. In some ways, the developmental disabilities provisions in the 2018-19 Enacted Budget represent a return of focus on the developmental disabilities sector, with several provisions concentrating on how larger reform efforts – including the movement toward managed care, health homes, and telehealth – intersect with the developmental disabilities community. Highlights of key provisions follow.

Managed Care. The Enacted Budget includes language updating existing provisions related to the movement of developmental disabilities clients and services into managed care. First, it expands the list of individuals who may be required to enroll in managed care and revises provisions regarding eligibility to include individuals with developmental or physical disabilities who receive services via a federal 1115 waiver, and authorizes the Commissioner of Health, in consultation with the Commissioner of Developmental Disabilities, to submit an application for such waiver. The Enacted Budget also extends authority of the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to require enrollment in managed care from 2019 to 2023, and makes technical corrections to that authority. The OPWDD Commissioner will also assess the quality, outcomes, experience and satisfaction of managed care for individuals with developmental disabilities, and report to the Legislature by December 31, 2022.

Health Homes. The Enacted Budget amends the Public Health Law to require criminal history checks for employees and subcontractors of health homes and any entity that provides community based services to individuals with developmental disabilities or to individuals under 21 years old.

Telehealth. The Enacted Budget amends the Public Health Law to allow the use of telehealth by certified and non-certified day or residential health care facilities operated by OPWDD, residential health care facilities serving special needs populations, credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselors, and early intervention providers. Further, the Commissioner of the Department of Health, in consultation with the Commissioners of Office of Mental Health, OPWDD and the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services may identify other providers that should be permitted to provide telehealth services. Additionally, DOH, OMH, OPWDD and OASAS will coordinate on a single guidance document that will identify the discrepancies in regulations and policies by state agencies, and assist consumers, providers and health plans to better understand and facilitate the use of telehealth to address barriers to care.

First Responder Training. The Enacted Budget agreement includes language to require the Commissioner of Mental Health, in consultation with the Department of Health, Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Municipal Police Training Council, and the Superintendent of the State Police, to develop a training program and educational materials to provide instruction and information to firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel on appropriate recognition and techniques for handling emergency situations involving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.

Care at Home Waivers. The Enacted Budget extends the Care at Home I and II waivers until March 31, 2023. These waivers provide community-based services to physically disabled children who require hospital or skilled nursing home level of care.

Extension of OMH Inpatient Psychiatry Demonstration. The Enacted Budget extends this demonstration program, which allows for three or more time-limited demonstration programs to test and evaluate new methods or arrangements for organizing, financing, staffing and providing services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, through March 31, 2021.

Independent Practitioner Services. The Enacted Budget amends Section 367-a of the Social Services Law to include independent practitioner services for individuals with developmental disabilities as covered services for insurance reimbursement.

Residents Use of Funds for Care and Treatment. The Enacted Budget extends Chapter 111 of the Laws of 2010 and Chapter 58 of the Laws of 2015 to extend the authority of state facility directors that act as federally appointed representative payees to use funds for the cost of a resident’s care and treatment in facilities through June 30, 2018.

For 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.

Responding to the Opioid Crisis and More:  2018-19 NYS Behavioral Health Budget Highlights

Several provisions in the recently adopted 2018-19 New York State Budget (the “Enacted Budget”) are intended to address the ongoing opioid crisis.  As discussed in a prior post (here), some were focused on pharmaceutical manufacturers.  Some of the most significant provisions, however, relate to the behavioral health services available to patients, including both mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) services.  Other provisions will affect behavioral health services more generally. Key provisions are summarized below.

Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman.  The Enacted Budget establishes the Office of the Independent Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Ombudsman, which will be operated or selected by the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), in conjunction with the Office of Mental Health (OMH).  The Ombudsman will assist individuals with SUD and/or mental illness to ensure they receive appropriate health insurance coverage.  The Ombudsman will identify, investigate, refer and resolve complaints that are made by or on behalf of consumers and treatment providers regarding health insurance coverage and network adequacy for substance use disorder and mental health care services.  The Enacted Budget appropriated $1.5 million for this program.

Prohibit Prior Authorization for Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment.  The Enacted Budget amends several provisions of the Insurance Law to prohibit prior authorization for outpatient, intensive outpatient, outpatient rehabilitation and opioid treatment provided by OASAS-certified facilities that are within the insurer’s provider network.  The coverage provided cannot be subject to concurrent review for the first two weeks of treatment if the facility notifies the insurer of the patient’s initial start date of treatment and the treatment plan within 48 hours.  The facility is also required to perform a patient clinical assessment at each visit and consult with the insurer to ensure the facility is using the appropriate evidence-based/peer reviewed clinical tool utilized by the insurer and designated by OASAS to ensure treatment is medically necessary.  Insurers may deny coverage for any portion of the initial two weeks of treatment if the treatment was deemed not medically necessary and contrary to the insurer-designated, OASAS-approved, evidence-based/peer reviewed tool.  If such coverage is denied by the insurer, the patient is liable for the copayment, coinsurance, or deductible required pursuant to the insurance contract.

Children and Recovering Mothers Program.  The Enacted Budget authorizes the Department of Health (DOH), in consultation with OASAS, to establish the Children and Recovering Mothers Program to provide health care providers, hospitals, and midwifery birth centers with guidance, education and assistance when providing care to expectant mothers with SUD.  The program will provide information to health care providers and expectant mothers on medication-assisted treatment, a referral list of SUD providers in the area, and information on other benefits and services they may be eligible for while expecting or after birth.  The program will develop a statewide system for rapid consultation and referral linkage services for obstetricians and primary care providers who treat expectant mothers.  Additionally, the DOH, in consultation with OASAS, will convene a workgroup of stakeholders, including hospitals, local health departments, obstetricians, midwives, pediatricians and substance use disorder providers, to study and evaluate the obstacles in identifying and treating expectant mothers, newborns and new parents with SUD.  The workgroup is required to submit a report of its findings to DOH, OASAS and the Legislature by April 2019.   The Enacted Budget appropriated $1 million for this initiative and $350,000 to establish an infant recovery pilot program to support up to four recovery centers in NYS.

Peer Recovery Advocate Services.  The Enacted Budget establishes the Certified Peer Recovery Advocate Services Program which builds upon the existing NYS Peer Recovery program.

The program provides patient-centered services that emphasize knowledge and wisdom obtained through life experience, where peers share their own personal journey with SUD to support the recovery goals of others.  The program standards, training and certification process will be developed and administered by OMH.  Certified peer recovery advocate services may include: developing recovery plans; raising awareness and linking participants to existing social and formal recovery support services; working with individuals to model coping skills and develop individual strengths; assisting individuals applying for benefits; attending medical appointments and court appearances; educating program individuals about the various modes of recovery; providing non-crisis support; and working with hospital emergency services, law enforcement departments, fire departments and other first responders to assist patients that have been administered an opioid antagonist establish connections to treatment and other support services.   

Opioid Stewardship Act.  As previously discussed, the Enacted Budget establishes an “Opioid Stewardship Fund” which imposes a “stewardship payment” (essentially a tax) on manufacturers and distributors that sell or distribute opioids in New York.  More detail can be found here.

Opioid Treatment Plans. The final budget includes language which prohibits prescribing opioids beyond three months, unless the patient’s medical record contains a written treatment plan that follows generally accepted national professional or governmental guidelines.  Exceptions are provided for patients being treated for cancer or palliative care.  More detail can be found here.

Social Work, Psychology and Mental Health Practitioners Scope of Practice.  The Enacted Budget includes provisions to clarify the activities and services that may be performed by licensed practitioners and those that do not require licensing.  These provisions eliminate the need to continue the licensure exemption which has been in place for persons employed by programs regulated or operated by OMH, OPWDD, OASAS, DOH, the State Office for Aging, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and local government or social services districts since 2002.

Behavioral Health/Primary Care Integration.  The Enacted Budget includes provisions building on the State’s prior efforts to integrate the licensure of behavioral health and primary care services. Prior state regulations established standards to determine how a facility offering integrated mental health, SUD and/or primary care services must be licensed.  Unfortunately, the ability to streamline such licensure was restricted in part by applicable statutes.  The Enacted Budget revises those statutes to clarify that primary care services providers licensed by Article 28 of the Public Health Law, mental health service providers licensed by Article 31 of the Mental Hygiene Law, and SUD providers licensed by Article 32 of the Mental Hygiene Law can each provide the other types of services so long as they are authorized to provide integrated services in accordance with DOH, OMH and OASAS regulations, without obtaining additional operating certificates.

Significant Appropriations

School Mental Health Resource and Training Center.  The Enacted Budget includes $1 million to create a Resource Center to help schools provide mental health education as part of their kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, as required by Chapter 390 of 2016.

Children’s Mental Health.  The Enacted Budget includes $10 million for services and expenses of not-for-profit agencies licensed, certified or approved by OMH to support the preservation, restructuring or expansion of children’s behavioral health services.

Jail-Based SUD Treatment and Transition.  The enacted budget includes $3.75 million for jail-based SUD and transition services.  The Commissioner of Mental Health, in consultation with local government units, county sheriffs and other stakeholders, will implement a jail-based program that supports the initiation, operation and enhancement of SUD services for individuals incarcerated in county jails.

Mental Health Facilities Capital Improvement Fund.  The enacted budget includes $50 million for the acquisition of property, construction, and rehabilitation of new facilities, to develop   residential crisis programs.  Funds may be used for the renovation of existing community mental health facilities under the auspice of municipalities, and other public or not-for-profit agencies, as approved by the Commissioner of Mental Health.

OASAS Treatment Funding.  The enacted budget includes $30 million for the development, expansion, and operation of treatment, recovery, and/or prevention services for persons with heroin and opiate use and addiction disorders. This funding will be distributed by the Commissioner of Office of Substance Abuse Services, subject to the approval of the Budget Director.

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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.

Trypanophobia—the fear of needles—played a significant role in a case brought against Rite Aid Pharmacy under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In Stevens v. Rite Aid Corp., the Second Circuit overturned a jury verdict awarding substantial damages to a Rite Aid pharmacist who was terminated after he said he could not perform immunization injections because of a needle phobia.

In 2011, Rite Aid and other large pharmacy chains started requiring pharmacists to perform immunizations to fill an unmet need for vaccinations in the healthcare market. Rite Aid revised its pharmacist job description to include immunizations as one of the essential duties and responsibilities for pharmacists and required that each pharmacist hold a valid immunization permit.

Pharmacist Christopher Stevens asserted that his needle phobia was a disability under the ADA and sought a reasonable accommodation so that he would not have to perform immunizations.  Rite Aid responded that the ADA did not apply to trypanophobia, no reasonable accommodation was required, and he would be fired if he did not complete immunization training. When Stevens advised Rite Aid he could not complete the training, he was terminated for refusing to perform customer immunizations, an essential function of his job.

The Second Circuit first noted that, under the ADA, an employee must be qualified to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Even viewing all evidence in the light most favorable to Stevens, the Court held that immunization injections were an essential job requirement for Rite Aid pharmacists. The company made a business decision to require pharmacists to perform immunizations, revised its job description to require immunization certification and licensure, and included immunizations in the list of “essential duties and responsibilities” for Rite Aid pharmacists. The Court found jury sympathy for Stevens’s phobia to be understandable, but held that “his inability to perform an essential function of his job as a pharmacist is the only conclusion that could be drawn from the evidence.”

The Court next determined that Stevens had not established that Rite Aid could have provided a reasonable accommodation, emphasizing that the issue was whether a reasonable accommodation would have allowed Stevens to perform the essential function of immunization, not whether he could perform his other non-immunization duties as a pharmacist.

The Second Circuit reversed the judgment in favor of Stevens, holding that performing immunization injections was an essential job requirement, and Stevens presented no evidence of a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed him to do them.

The Stevens case highlights two important points under the ADA. An employer’s written job description including the essential duties and responsibilities of a position can be strong evidence to support an ADA argument concerning the essential functions of the job. Moreover, a reasonable accommodation is directed to allowing the employee to perform the essential functions of the job, not simply finding other things that the employee can do.