Category Archives: Health Care Providers

2016 Is Ramping Up For Telemedicine Developments

Two months in and this year has already seen significant movement in regulatory action across the country to expand the ability to provide telemedicine services. Below please find some of the more significant items that have already gone into effect in 2016 or are under consideration, including commercial payor and Medicaid reimbursement coverage for telemedicine services, reciprocal licenses for out-of-state providers and the ability to prescribe without an in-person evaluation.

Parity Laws in New York and Connecticut

Effective January 1, 2016, New York passed a Chapter Amendment clarifying last year’s telemedicine commercial coverage statute.  Under the 2016 Chapter Amendment, private insurers are required to cover services via telemedicine if provided by hospitals, home care and hospice agencies, licensed physicians, physician assistants, dentists, nurses, midwives, podiatrists, optometrists, ophthalmic dispensers, psychologists, social workers, speech language pathologists and audiologists.  The parity law prohibits an insurer from excluding from coverage a service provided via telehealth if that service is otherwise covered in-person.

The law also provides for Medicaid reimbursement to providers for telehealth services, which is defined broadly to include real-time two-way electronic audio visual communications, asynchronous store and forward technology and remote patient monitoring. However, with the exception of remote patient monitoring, telehealth will not be reimbursed by Medicaid when the patient is located in their home.  The New York Department of Health is expected to release telemedicine regulations later this year.

Similarly, Connecticut also recently passed a new telemedicine parity law that went into effect January 1, 2016. Under Connecticut’s parity law, commercial insurers must provide coverage for services rendered via telemedicine under the same terms and conditions as would apply if that service was provided in-person.  Connecticut broadly defines telehealth to include services performed by a telehealth provider at a distant site as well as synchronous interactions, asynchronous store and forward transfers and remote patient monitoring.

Notably, Connecticut went even farther than New York in its telehealth parity law by expressly preventing a health plan from excluding a service from coverage solely because the service is provided through telehealth and not in-person. In this way, a health plan cannot exclude a telehealth service, such as remote patient monitoring, simply because it does not lend itself to an in-person professional service.

Florida’s Controlled Substance Teleprescription Law

Florida recently implemented a new rule to permit physicians to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine exclusively for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, effective March 4, 2016. Specifically, the amended regulation provides that controlled substances may not be prescribed through the use of telemedicine, “except for the treatment of psychiatric disorders.”

However, after passing this new rule, the Florida Board of Medicine recognized that it is still restricted by the Federal Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008.  The Ryan Haight Act narrowly permits the remote prescription of controlled substances for patients without an in-person evaluation so long as the patient is: (1) physically located in a hospital or clinic with a valid DEA registration; and (2) treated by a DEA registered practitioner in the usual course of professional practice and in accordance with state law.  Accordingly, while Florida is expanding its telemedicine laws, the prescription of controlled substances via telemedicine will only be broadly permissible if the American Telemedicine Association, or other organizations, are successful in amending the Ryan Haight Act.

Newly Introduced Telemedicine Bills in New Jersey and Ohio

Various other states are also in the process of trying to pass telemedicine bills. For example, New Jersey recently introduced a bill on February 8, 2016, that would require private payors to provide coverage for telemedicine to the same extent that the services would be covered if they were provided through an in-person consultation.

Additionally, another NJ telemedicine bill was introduced on January 12, 2016, which would provide a mechanism for physicians and other health care providers to obtain reciprocal licenses to practice in New Jersey if the providers are licensed by another state in their particular specialty.  The bill would also provide a parity law for telemedicine services to be reimbursed under NJ Medicaid.  As a similar bill was proposed in 2015 and has now carried over into the 2016 session, the likelihood of its passing is even greater.

An Ohio legislative bill is also headed to the Senate that would allow patients to obtain prescriptions (for non-controlled substances) without an in-person exam or visit from a health care provider.

For more information on telehealth and telemedicine legal and regulatory considerations, continued legislative developments or related issues, please feel free to contact Daniel Meier or any member of our health care practice group for a further discussion.

FCC Releases Guidance on Autodialing and Pre-Recorded Voice Calls to Wireless Phone Numbers

This past July, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a ruling (the “Ruling”) interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TPCA”) restrictions on certain communications to wireless telephone numbers. The Ruling significantly restricts business’ ability to use auto-dialers and artificial / prerecorded voices for contacting wireless telephone numbers, including via text message (“automated contact system ”), prior to obtaining customer consent. Fortunately for the many health care providers who rely on this type of technology for important patient correspondence such as appointment reminders, the FCC has provided a significant exception for providers’ automated contact systems that meet certain criteria set forth in the Ruling. While the criteria are not overly burdensome, they are numerous and specific, so health care providers with automated contact systems should review them carefully to ensure ongoing compliance with the TPCA.

Following the Ruling, health care providers with automated contact systems must either obtain patient consent prior to using automated contact systems, or be sure that their automated contact system comply with the Ruling. Generally, to be exempt from obtaining prior express consent from patients calls to wireless numbers using automated contact systems:

  • must not be charged to patient-recipients;
  • must be for specific, health-related purposes;
  • must include easy opt-out options; and
  • are subject to volume and brevity restrictions.

The Ruling describes in greater detail the steps that health care providers must take to meet the above standards.

The FCC ruling is available here. Contact a member of the Benesch team if you have any questions about your automatic contact system after the FCC’s recent ruling.

Medicare Part B Reimbursement After the SGR Repeal

On April 16, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 and thereby repealed the sustainable growth rate (“SGR”) Medicare Part B provider reimbursement methodology, represented by the Physician Fee Schedule that had been in place for nearly twenty years. SGR reimbursement was originally intended to control Medicare costs by keeping provider reimbursement proportionate to America’s overall economic growth. This was to be accomplished by setting reimbursement ceilings and then cutting reimbursement when those ceilings were exceeded in a given year. Historically, rather than instituting these cuts as planned, Congress repeatedly delayed the implementation of reimbursement reductions through the use of repeated short term legislative patches delaying any cutbacks

This pattern of emergency stop-gap measures ended on April 16, 2015 when, in an uncharacteristically bipartisan move, Congress permanently repealed and replaced the SGR. This revised reimbursement formula includes:

  • eliminating delayed reimbursement rate reductions under the SGR;
  • from 2015 – 19, increasing reimbursement rates by 0.5%;
  • from 2020 – 25, freezing reimbursement rates; and
  • from 2026 – forward, instituting annual reimbursement rate increases based upon provider participation in one of two provider risk-sharing arrangements: (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (“MIPS”) provides for a 0.25% annual increase; or (2) Alternative Payment Models (“AMP”) provides for a 0.75% annual increase.

Both incentive programs incorporate value-based payments beginning in 2019. First, MIPS combines and replaces existing incentive programs and provides a payment adjustment to fee-for-service reimbursement based upon a composite score made up of four categories: (1) Quality; (2) Resource Use; (3) Clinical Improvement; and (4) EHR Use. Second, AMP participants will receive a 5% of annual reimbursement bonus payment in exchange for generating sufficient revenue through qualified risk-sharing payment models, such as Accountable Care Organizations and Medical Homes.

The SGR repeal is funded by reductions in Medicare payments to hospitals and post-acute care providers, elimination of first-dollar Medigap coverage, and increases to Medicare premium cost-sharing for high income beneficiaries. Despite these cuts, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation will still add a grand total of $141 billion to the Federal deficit.

The elimination of the SGR provides some enduring stability following years of uncertainty.  After repeated, temporary SGR legislative fixes, the legislation eliminating the SGR and instituting the replacement reimbursement methodology represents a bipartisan effort to transition Federal health care program reimbursement away from traditional fee-for-service arrangements and into a new era of value-based payments. Consistent with trends in the health care industry at-large, and the Federal health care programs in particular, providers seeking meaningful reimbursement increases through Medicare Part B under the revised reimbursement methodology must meet quality metrics, whether through an incentivized fee-for-service model or through participation in alternative payment mechanisms.

For more information on health care reimbursement trends, please contact a member of Benesch’s health care team.

What Makes A Five Star Hospital?

The Affordable Care Act includes many provisions aimed at improving the quality of care provided by different types of health care professionals and providers. Along these lines, the ACA expands the types of facilities and providers for which quality data will be publically available.  The Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services was therefore directed to develop a Hospital Compare website (amongst other similar sites such as Physician Compare and Nursing Home Compare) that would allow Medicare enrollees to compare scientifically sound measures of physician quality and patient experience.

In accordance with these directives, on April 16, 2015 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) released the first ever Hospital Compare Star Ratings on its public information website.  The site is intended to make it easier for consumers to choose a hospital and understand the quality of care they deliver.  The data set from the website contains hospital-specific quality data for over 4,500 hospitals nationwide.  The ratings are based on the 11 publicly reported measures in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (“HCAHPS”) survey, which assesses patient experiences.

The star ratings allow for an easy comparison using a five-star scale, with more stars indicating better quality care.  The quality data on Hospital Compare includes clinical process of care, patient outcomes and patient experience of care measures.  The national rankings are based on hospitals’ performance on the clinical process of care measures and a national survey of patients’ experience of care.  The hospitals’ ranks are combined into an overall, composite performance ranking, with process of care measures contributing 70% and patient experience of care measuring 30%.

However, just 251 out of 3,553 hospitals received the highest score in the rating system based on the experiences of patients who were admitted between July 2013 and June 2014.  Hospitals had an opportunity to preview the ratings in the fall and many have already expressed concern.  Hospitals question the methodology and whether the ratings reflect meaningful reflections of performance.  They also assert that the ratings are oversimplifying the hospital’s performance to a single score.

Notably, the patient experience star ratings are only based on the information on quality of care that is reported by patients.  The surveys are provided to a random sampling of patients within two days after discharge from a hospital and must be completed within 42 days.  Further, positive results may mean that the hospital is delivering good care.  However, these results are not taking into account other factors such as timely and efficient care and results or outcomes of care measures.  Moreover, the results places substantial reliance on patient review, which is just one measurement of hospital quality.  Lastly, if one does not review Hospital Compare extensively, information aside from the star ratings may easily be overlooked.  For example, the complete results for each HCAHPS measure can be found in the “Survey of Patients’ experiences” section.

On the other hand, supporters of Hospital Compare argue that while it’s not a perfect measurement system, it creates a healthy competition among hospitals.

For more information on Hospital Compare, other CMS initiatives or related issues, please feel free to contact Daniel Meier or any member of our health care practice group for a further discussion.