Health Care

Many forces have been driving the growth of telehealth over the past decade, including value-based reimbursement models, population health management trends, and technology advancements. As we have discussed in previous blog posts, the COVID-19 pandemic was the jet fuel that propelled telemedicine utilization into the stratosphere. This growth was, in large part, due to the necessity of limiting in-person contact to avoid widespread COVID-19 transmission. In fact, as COVID-19 began to spread across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) advised health care providers to offer care via telemedicine technologies wherever appropriate. However, not all of this growth in the telehealth space can be attributed to the necessity of social distancing during the pandemic; even as transmission of COVID-19 has slowed in many areas, providers continue to offer telehealth for patient care, and patients continue to utilize it.

As discussed in a prior blog post, effective June 25, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 210, which officially declared the end of the New York State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the New York emergency telehealth waivers have expired.  These telehealth waivers had previously allowed many digital health companies and health systems to utilize certain flexibilities related to the methods of allowable telehealth technologies and the use of out-of-state providers to expand services and to cover understaffed departments.

In response to the Governor’s announcement, the New York State Department of Health (“NYS DOH”) issued guidance extending the expansion for the ability of all Medicaid providers in all situations to use a wide variety of communication methods to deliver services remotely during the remainder of the federally-declared COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (“PHE”). Note that this guidance does not impact or provide additional flexibilities to non-Medicaid providers and, as discussed in our prior blog post, the New York State Education Department has only commented stating that given the expiration of the New York COVID-19 waivers, “professionals should exercise due diligence and good faith efforts to return to compliance with all Title VIII statutory and regulatory requirements without delay.”

On June 24, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued Executive Order 210, which officially declared the end of the New York State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic effective June 25, 2021. The issuance of the Executive Order marked an important milestone for life post-pandemic and a welcome result for small businesses barely treading water trying to comply with the COVID-19 restrictions. However, the abruptness of the announcement, the limited carve-outs for health care professionals and the organizations that employ or contract with them, and the lack of permanent alternative solutions will create a tumultuous few weeks for those parties.

This is the second of two posts discussing the June 11, 2021 updates to the PRF reporting requirements and FAQs.

As discussed in our earlier blog post, on June 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) released revised COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund (“PRF”) Reporting Requirements, superseding all prior versions of reporting requirements issued by HHS, along with associated revised PRF FAQs, Reporting Portal FAQs, and a Reporting Portal Registration User Guide that each make conforming changes. In addition to the new deadlines discussed in the prior post, the June 11 PRF updates offer providers more clarity into the the priority of eligible uses, required reporting elements, and instructions on how to return unused funds.

This is the first of two posts discussing the June 11, 2021 updates to the PRF reporting requirements and FAQs.

On June 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) released revised COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund (“PRF”) Reporting Requirements, superseding all prior versions of reporting requirements issued by HHS, along with associated revised PRF FAQs, Reporting Portal FAQs, and a Reporting Portal Registration User Guide that each make conforming changes. The updated Reporting Requirements come just three weeks prior to when PRF recipients would have been required to expend all received funds and when reporting was scheduled to commence (July 1, 2021).

Significantly, the updates give providers a longer runway to use funds, clarify the definition of “COVID-19 patient”, and provide insight into potential upcoming PRF distributions. The updated Reporting Requirements represent the Biden Administration’s first actions to modify the PRF, which distributes federal grants to help providers offset revenue shortfalls and expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 10, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) announced “an emergency temporary standard to protect healthcare workers from contracting coronavirus.” The standard focuses on healthcare workers that are on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, aiming to increase protections for those who “continue to be at high risk of contracting the [disease] . . . while they provide us with critical healthcare services.”

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented coming together of the health care industry to treat communities beset by a deadly virus that strained provider resources across the country.  But just as normalcy returns, enforcement arms of the federal government have announced action against bad actors who took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to implement fraudulent schemes designed to specifically exploit the pandemic.

In separate actions on May 26, 2021, the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Center for Program Integrity, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CPI/CMS) announced cases against multiple defendants who perpetrated a variety of COVID-19-related scams on federal healthcare programs.  The DOJ charged 14 defendants who are alleged to have defrauded the government of over $143 million in false billings in the aggregate, while the CPI/CMS began administrative proceedings against more than 50 providers who took advantage of CMS programs meant to increase care access during the pandemic.

Among the numerous consequences of the Covid-19 Pandemic is a well-documented emphasis on the home.  Work at home.  Exercise at home.  See your doctor or other health provider at home.  Home-based health care beyond the traditional nursing care is yet another change wrought by the pandemic that will not likely be eliminated as we come to define the new normal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a wave of telehealth policy changes across the nation at both federal and state levels. Such changes have expanded access to health care and addressed underutilization in chronic disease management while minimizing the risk of exposure for individuals seeking care. One such policy change in particular has received widespread attention and support from industry stakeholders and lawmakers alike: expansion of telehealth to include audio-only telephonic communications. However, the longevity of telehealth’s expansion to audio-only services remains uncertain as states and the federal government each pursue revisions to pandemic-era policies and flexibilities.

In a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on March 23, 2021 (the “2021 Report”), representatives from 320 hospitals in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico were interviewed on their experiences responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions were focused on the hospitals’ most difficult challenges in responding to COVID-19, strategies used by the hospitals in addressing or mitigating those challenges, and how the government could best support hospitals responding to COVID-19. This report was a follow-up to a similar OIG pulse survey released about a year ago on April 3, 2020 (the “2020 Report”), which summarized hospitals’ answers to the same questions near the start of the pandemic. The two reports, published one year apart, provide a useful snapshot into how hospital challenges have evolved in responding to the pandemic. Looking at the two reports side-by-side, we compare the challenges hospitals faced in 2020 versus the challenges they are now contending with one year later in 2021.