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CMS Offers New Stark Waivers and More Flexibility to Health Care Providers Due to COVID-19

On March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued several temporary regulatory waivers to further enable the American healthcare system to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with more efficiency and flexibility. The official publication can be found here: Physicians and Other Clinicians: CMS Flexibilities to Fight COVID-19.

The following measures will take effect immediately and will continue through the end of the public health emergency declaration:

  • “Stark Law” waivers. CMS is implementing waivers permitting certain referrals and the submission of related claims that would otherwise violate the Stark Law. A comprehensive list of these waivers can be found here
  • Hospitals or other health care providers may pay above or below fair market value for equipment rental or physician services. Examples:
    • A physician practice may rent or sell needed equipment to hospitals at a price that is below what the practice could charge another party.
    • A hospital may provide space on hospital grounds at no charge to a physician who is willing to treat patients who seek care at the hospital but are not appropriate for emergency department or inpatient care.
    • Health care providers can support each other financially to ensure continuity of health care operations. For example, a physician owner of a hospital may make a personal loan to the hospital without charging interest at a fair market rate so that the hospital can make payroll or pay its vendors.
    • Hospitals may provide certain benefits to their medical staff while the physicians are at the hospital and engaging in activities that benefit the hospital and its patients. These benefits may include multiple meals, laundry service, or childcare services. 
  • Certain items and services solely related to COVID-19 may be provided even though such provision may exceed the annual non-monetary compensation cap. Examples:
    • A home health agency may provide continuing medical education to physicians in the community on the latest care protocols for homebound patients with COVID-19.
    • A hospital may provide isolation shelter or meals to the family of a physician who was exposed to the novel coronavirus while working in the hospital’s emergency department.
    • Physician-owned hospitals can temporarily increase the number of their licensed beds, operating rooms, and procedure rooms, even though such expansion would otherwise be prohibited under the Stark Law. For example, a physician-owned hospital may temporarily convert observation beds to inpatient beds to accommodate an increased number of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Group practices can furnish medically necessary MRIs, CT scans or clinical laboratory services from locations like mobile vans in parking lots that the group practice rents on a part-time basis. 
  • Telehealth. Clinicians can now provide more services via telehealth, including home visits, emergency department visits, and therapy services to help mitigate the risk of spreading the virus while still caring for patients. A complete list of these services can be found here
    • Virtual check-ins. Clinicians may now provide virtual check-in services (HCPCS G2012, G2010) to both new and established patients. Previously, these services could only be provided to established patients. 
    • Telephone codes. CMS reimbursement is now available for telephone evaluation and management services (E/M services) provided by a physician (CPT 99441-99443) and telephone assessment and management services provided by a qualified non-physician health care professional (CPT 98966-98968). These services are currently only available for established patients. However, these services may be provided using audio-only devices. 
    • E-visits. Certain non-physician providers, including licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists, can provide e-visits (HCPCS G2061-G2063). These services are only available for established patients. Additionally, these e-visits must be initiated by the patient. 
    • Remote patient monitoring. Clinicians can now provide remote patient monitoring services to both new and established patients. Additionally, these services can be provided for both acute and chronic conditions and for patients with only one disease. 
    • Removal of frequency limitations on Medicare telehealth. Subsequent inpatient visits (CPT 99231-99233), subsequent skilled nursing facility visits (CPT 99307-99310), and critical care consult codes (CPT G0508-G0509) no longer have limitations on the number of times they can be provided by telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries. 
    • Waiver of copayments. Providers may waive copayments for these telehealth services for Original Medicare beneficiaries. 
  • Medicare physician supervision requirements. For services requiring direct supervision by a physician or other practitioner, the physician supervision can be provided virtually using real-time audio/visual technology. Additionally, a physician may now provide a general level of supervision, instead of direct supervision, for non-surgical extended duration therapeutic services provided in hospital outpatient departments and critical access hospitals. This relieves physicians of the requirement to be immediately available in the office suite. 
  • MIPS flexibilities. Two updates to the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS) in the Quality Payment Program have been made. 
    • Clinicians adversely affected by COVID-19 may submit an application to request reweighting of the MIPS performance categories for the 2019 performance year. 
    • A new Improvement Activity for the CY 2020 performance year has been added that, if selected, would provide high-weighted credit for clinicians within the MIPS Improvement Activities performance category. Clinicians will receive credit for this Improvement Activity by participating in a clinical trial utilizing a drug or biological product to treat a patient with COVID-19 and then reporting their findings to a clinical data repository or clinical data registry. 
  • Signature Requirements. Signature and proof of delivery requirements for Part B drugs and Durable Medical Equipment have been waived when a signature cannot be obtained because of the inability to collect signatures. Suppliers should document in the medical record the appropriate date of delivery and that a signature was not able to be obtained because of COVID-19.

BMD will continue to educate health care providers as additional waivers and further guidance on COVID-19 are issued. For questions, please contact Jeana M. Singleton at jmsingleton@bmdllc.com or 330-253-2001, or any member of the BMD Healthcare and Hospital Law group

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.

Ohio’s Managed Care Overhaul Delayed – New Implementation Timeline

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) launched the Medicaid Managed Care Procurement process in 2019. ODM’s stated vision for the procurement was to focus on people and not just the business of managed care. This is the first structural change to Ohio’s managed care system since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) approval of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2005. Initially, all of the new managed care programs were supposed to be implemented starting on July 1, 2022. However, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran recently confirmed that this date will be pushed back for several managed care-related programs.

Laboratory Specimen Collection Arrangements with Contract Hospitals - OIG Advisory Opinion 22-09

On April 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) published an Advisory Opinion[1] in which it evaluated a proposed arrangement where a network of clinical laboratories (the “Requestor”) would compensate hospitals (each a “Contract Hospital”) for specimen collection, processing, and handling services (“Collection Services”) for laboratory tests furnished by the Requestor (the “Proposed Arrangement”). The OIG concluded that the Proposed Arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) if the requisite intent were present. This is due to both the possibility that the proposed per-patient-encounter fee would be used to induce or reward referrals to Requestor and the associated risk of improperly steering patients to Requestor.

Property Owner Protection from Tax Valuation Challenges

New legislation provides significant new protections for commercial property owners against challenges to valuation primarily by local school boards and prohibiting side agreements to avoid tax valuation changes. The Ohio Legislature has approved House Bill 126 which will go into effect July 2022 but will effectively apply to the 2023 tax valuation year.