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President Trump Signs Executive Orders that Enable Access to Affordable Meds

On Friday, July 24, 2020, President Trump signed four Executive Orders concerning prescription drug pricing which collectively direct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take the following actions:

1. Increase Patient Access to Insulin and Injectable Epinephrine

The first Executive Order, “Access to Affordable Life-saving Medications,” directs HHS to condition future federal grants available to Federally Qualified Health Centers (“FQHCs”) under the Public Health Service Act on the FQHCs having established practices which make insulin and injectable epinephrine available for discounted prices to patients who:

  1. Have a high cost sharing requirement for these drugs;
  2. Have a high, unsatisfied deductible; or
  3. Have no health care insurance.

The intent of the Executive Order is to enable Americans who may otherwise struggle to afford these necessary medications access to them at a much lower price — comparable to what FQHCs pay through the 340B Drug Pricing Program. In other words, FQHCs would be required to pass their 304B savings onto medically underserved patients.

2. Facilitate the Importation of Certain Prescription Drugs

The President’s Executive Order, “Increasing Drug Importation to Lower Prices for American Patients,” aims at expanding access to low-cost imported drugs by directing HHS to:
(1) facilitate waivers relative to the prohibition of importation of prescription drugs,
(2) authorize reimportation as “required emergency medical care,” and (3) finalize a rule to allow importation of prescription drugs from Canada.

The Executive Order builds on the Safe Importation Action Plan issued by HHS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year, which provided two pathways to providing safe, lower cost drugs to American consumers. Under the new Executive Order, individual waivers to import drugs are permitted as long as the importation does not pose a risk to public safety.

3. Remove the Anti-Kickback Safe Harbor Protection for Prescription Rebates

President Trump’s third Executive Order, “Lowering Prices for Patients by Eliminating Kickbacks to Middlemen,” directs HHS to finalize its rule: “Removal of Safe Harbor Protection for Rebates Involving Prescription Pharmaceuticals and Certain Pharmacy Benefit Manager Service Fees,” commonly referred to as the “Rebate Rule.”

As it stands, prices that patients pay at the point-of-sale are oftentimes significantly higher than the prices that insurance companies, or the “middlemen” hired by insurance companies, actually pay for the drugs. This leads to those middlemen receiving large “rebate” checks which are, in essence, kickbacks for the heightened prices paid by Medicare patients.

In finalizing the Rebate Rule, HHS would:

  1. exclude from the safe harbor protections of the Anti-Kickback Statute certain reductions in price that are not applied at the point-of-sale or other remuneration that drug manufacturers provide to health plan sponsors, pharmacies, or PBMs in operating the Medicare Part D program; and
  2. establish new safe harbors that would permit health plan sponsors, pharmacies, and PBMs to apply discounts at the patient’s point-of-sale in order to lower the patient’s out-of-pocket costs, and that would permit the use of certain bona fide PBM service fees.

If finalized, the Rebate Rule would have the effect of collectively saving Medicare patients billions of dollars on prescription drugs.

4. Implement the “Most Favored Nation” Order to Lower Medicare Part B Drug Cost

In issuing the above Executive Orders, President Trump also announced another initiative — the “Most Favored Nation” order — which builds on his International Pricing Index (IPI) model to ensure lower cost Medicare Part B drugs that would set United States pricing at rates comparable to countries similarly situated economically.

Under the IPI model, the United States federal government would pay certain vendors directly for Medicare Part B drugs and certain physicians and hospitals administration fees for distribution.

To date, the IPI model has not been put into effect; however, President Trump indicated his intent to implement the Executive Order in late-August 2020.

The collective effect of the four Executive Orders issued by President Trump last week serves to make access to affordable medications for Americans, particularly vulnerable populations, a public health priority.

As a practical matter, however, the power of the Executive Order is limited — making the functional impact of the new directives dependent on how quickly HHS moves through the formal rule-making process.

As a result, the time frame in which the healthcare industry can expect to see systematic changes from the President’s Orders remains uncertain. In the meantime, healthcare entities should keep a watchful eye for new guidance from HHS.

Please contact BMD Health Law Attorney Jeana Singleton (jmsingleton@bmdllc.com) for questions regarding the new Executive Orders and their practical effect, or for any other healthcare questions.

HHS Announces an Additional $20 Billion In Provider Relief Grants

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced an additional $20 billion in new funding for providers on October 1, 2020. Eligible providers include those that have already received Provider Relief Fund payments as well as previously ineligible providers, such as those who began practicing in 2020, and an expanded group of behavioral health providers confronting the emergence of increased mental health and substance use issues exacerbated by the pandemic. The new Phase 3 General Distribution is designed to balance an equitable payment of 2% of annual revenue from patient care for all applicants plus an add-on payment to account for revenue losses and expenses attributable to COVID-19.

DOL Proposes New Rule Regarding Independent Contractor Status - But How Will the Election Affect Its Future?

On September 22, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor announced a new proposed rule regarding employee and independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The full text of the proposed rule is available here. The rule's drafters intend to reduce uncertainty and enhance the precision and predictability of the long-standing "economic reality" test, which currently relies on a multifactor balancing test.

Major Change to Franklin County, Ohio Eviction Process: Landlord Testimony Required

Although there is currently a nationwide temporary halt on all residential evictions through December 31, 2020 in place, the eviction process in Franklin County – which processes the highest number of evictions in the State of Ohio at approximately 18,000 a year – recently changed significantly.

UPDATE: Governor Dewine Signs HB 606 Granting Short Window of Immunity from COVID-19 Personal Injury Lawsuits

The Ohio General Assembly, in Am. Sub. H.B. No. 606, is in the final stages of passing a law that will prohibit lawsuits seeking damages from COVID-19. This includes injury, death, or loss to person or property if the lawsuits are based, in whole or in part, on the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of the coronavirus, unless the defendant in the lawsuit acted intentionally or recklessly. In circumstances where this immunity does not apply, H.B. 606 prohibits such claims being aggregated and brought as a class action.

Revised Department of Labor FFCRA Guidance, Effective September 16, 2020

In response to attacks on the legality of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule regarding the Families First Coronavirus Act (“FFCRA” or the “Act”), which took effect in April 2020, the Department of Labor issued new guidance on Friday, September 11th to formally address ongoing questions and concerns related to the COVID-19 legislation.