As reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ-6) on April 22, 2021 after originally being introduced on September 19, 2019, H.R. 3, also known as known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, proposes to grant the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) the authority to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies in order to lower drug prices in Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D (the “Proposal”).  The Proposal would require that 125 brand-name drugs that cost Medicare the most to be subject to negotiation by Medicare, with a cap on the price for each drug set at 120% of the average price paid in six other countries.  The Proposal is part of a $3.5 trillion budget proposal that, as of this writing, faces an uncertain future in Congress.  While not a novel idea, the Proposal is controversial and faces strong opposition from pharmaceutical companies in particular.

Continue Reading Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act: The Long and Winding Road to Drug Pricing Reform

On August 10, 2021, the Senate passed H.R. 3684, a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill (the “Infrastructure Bill”) that authorizes funds for federal-aid highways, transit, broadband access and other infrastructure purposes.  Notably, the Infrastructure Bill is paid for in part through changes to several healthcare policies, including delaying a Medicare Part D rebate rule for an additional three years and reducing Medicare payment amounts to providers.  The Infrastructure Bill’s changes to healthcare policies provide a mixed impact to health care industry stakeholders, with both expected benefits and burdens to providers, payers, and drug manufacturers.

Continue Reading The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: Potential Impact on Healthcare Policy and Spending

On August 10, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (“CMS”) published a proposed rule (“Proposed Rule”) to rescind the Most Favored Nation Model (“MFN Model”) interim final rule that was published on November 26, 2020 (“Interim Final Rule”).  As described in our December 2020 blog post, the Interim Final Rule established a seven-year nationwide, mandatory MFN Model that would test an alternative way for Medicare to pay for certain Medicare Part B single source drugs and biologicals.  The MFN Model, originally set to begin January 1, 2021, would have tied the prices for certain Part B single-source drugs and biologics to the average price paid by several overseas countries and remove incentives to use higher cost drugs, in order to determine whether this could “control unsustainable growth in Medicare Part B spending without adversely affecting quality of care for beneficiaries.”  Had the Interim Final Rule been implemented, Medicare Part B reimbursement would have been significantly reduced starting January 1, 2021.

Continue Reading Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy: The Biden Administration Considers Drug Pricing Strategies While Keeping the “Most Favored Nations” Drug Reimbursement Program on the Sidelines

On August 13, 2021, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court opinion vacating CMS’ Overpayment Rule, 42 C.F.R. 422.326, for Medicare Advantage organizations (“MAOs”).  UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co. et al. v. Becerra et al., case number 18-5326.  As a result of this decision, CMS can once again rely on the Overpayment Rule to impose voluntary refund obligations for MAOs.  MAOs – already subject to significant government enforcement related to their risk adjustment coding practices – should carefully consider the implications of this decision for their coding and auditing practices.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Gives New Life to CMS Overpayment Rule

On July 13, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released a Proposed Rule that proposes to amend certain regulations implementing the Physician Self-Referral Law, otherwise known as the “Stark Law”. The Proposed Rule proposes to revise once again the definition of “indirect compensation arrangement” (ICA), effectively to revert the meaning of the definition back – for the vast majority of indirect financial relationships between DHS entities and referring physicians – to the definition of that term as it was in place prior to the latest Stark Law rulemaking, “Modernizing and Clarifying the Physician Self-Referral Regulations” (the “MCR Final Rule”), published on December 2, 2020.[1]  The Proposed Rule also proposes to define the term “unit” and the phrase “services that are personally performed”, both for purposes of the ICA definition.

Continue Reading CMS Proposes to Revise, Again, the Stark Law’s Definition of “Indirect Compensation Arrangement”: What Was Old is New Again

In July 2020, we discussed a ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals upholding the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) site-neutral payment rules. On Monday, June 28, 2021, the Supreme Court declined, without comment, to hear an appeal from the American Hospital Association (AHA) and other provider groups asking it to reverse this ruling.

Continue Reading Site-Neutral Payments Stand: SCOTUS Declines to Hear AHA Appeal, Preserving Lower Payments to Off-Campus Provider-Based Departments

On May 21, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) announced that the Next Generation Accountable Care Organization (“ACO”) Model (“NGACO Model” or “Model”), set to end December 31, 2021, will not be extended after receiving a one-year extension due to COVID-19.  The decision comes as a surprise to NGACO participants and other industry groups who have been calling on CMS to revisit its decision and closely consider the Model’s merits and potential as a permanent program option.  Industry stakeholders, such as the National Association of ACOs (“NAACOS”), expressed initial disappointment with CMS’ decision to end the program, but were later able to find some reprieve with CMS’ decision to “allow Next Gen ACOs a limited opportunity to apply for Direct Contracting . . . . starting next year.”

Continue Reading CMS’ Next Generation Accountable Care Organization (NGACO) Model Set To End in December 2021

The Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (H.R. 1319) (the “Act”) could present an opportunity for the growth of utilization of ambulatory surgery centers (“ASCs”), continuing the trend of migration of inpatient procedures to the outpatient setting.  This shift toward the outpatient setting initially began prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency, but was accelerated by the pandemic’s effect on hospitals, likely continuing the substantial increase in investment in the ASC marketplace.
Continue Reading Biden’s American Rescue Plan Follows Trend Toward Outpatient Setting, Increase in ASC Investment

It’s Day 2 of the J.P. Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference at its finest – looking closely at healthcare inequities, strategic business shifts and killer robots, all in the same day! (Yes, we did say killer robots and it’s your reward for reading all the way to the end of this article).
Continue Reading Day 2 Notes for the 39th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, 2021

Sitting in the dark before 6 am in my Los Angeles house with my face lit up by yet another Zoom screen, wearing a stylish combination of sweatpants, dress shirt and last year’s JPM conference badge dangling around my neck for old times’ sake, I wonder at the fact that it’s J.P. Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference week again and we are where we are. Quite a year for all of us – the pandemic, the healthcare system’s response to the public health emergency, the ongoing fight for racial justice, the elections, the storming of the Capital – and the subject of healthcare winds its way through all of it – public health, our healthcare system’s stability, strengths and weaknesses, the highly noticeable healthcare inequities, the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and vaccines, healthcare politics and what the new administration will bring as healthcare initiatives.
Continue Reading Day 1 Notes for the 39th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, 2021

In our December 7, 2020 Blog Post, “Permanent Expansion of Medicare Telehealth Services,” we discussed the 2021 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule (the “Final Rule”) and the regulatory changes made therein by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to expand Medicare telehealth coverage within the confines of existing Medicare statutory law.  The Final Rule was first posted on December 2, 2020 and was formally published in the Federal Register on December 28, 2020.
Continue Reading The Permanency for Audio-Only Telehealth Act: A Matter of Healthcare Equity?