Hospitals & Health Systems

We are thrilled both to welcome four new hospice attorneys to Husch Blackwell and for the launch of their new podcast “Hospice Insights: The Law and Beyond.”

In this first episode, Meg Pekarske, Bryan Nowicki,  Erin Burns and Andrew Brenton discuss the exciting opportunities resulting from their move to Husch Blackwell. The episode is available

There is a trend in healthcare toward customer-centrism—placing the interests of the consumer before all other considerations.  The trend may be slow in its growth, but for those healthcare organizations that embrace the idea and obsess over improving the consumer’s experience throughout their healthcare journey, there can be a payoff.  But improving consumer experience in healthcare takes a commitment and courage to venture outside of traditional comfort zones.

For years, the polarized debate over healthcare policy has included advocacy for a more consumer-directed healthcare system.  The argument in favor says consumers and providers alike must have more skin in the game—financial responsibility—and better information with which to make more consumer-like decisions.  For providers, the “skin” means risk-based contracts.  For consumers, it means higher deductibles and other out-of-pocket cost exposure.  There has been significant movement in this direction. 
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This is the first of three blogs in a series discussing the shift many states are beginning to make towards limiting “Surprise” or “Balance Billing.” This first blog will focus on Texas Senate Bill 1264, which looks to end surprise billing in the State of Texas in certain circumstances. The second blog in this series will look at the similar law California passed in 2017 to see what kind of effects that law has had. The final blog in this series will discuss other proposed state and federal laws that look to continue the trend towards ending surprise billing.
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Time is running short on the opportunity to comment on a proposed rule further increasing transparency in hospital pricing.  The rule was released July 29 and was quickly panned by providers and insurers over provisions requiring hospitals to publicly disclose the negotiated rates they have with third-party payers.

Comments on the rule are due September 27, 2019.

Action by the federal government to increase price transparency in health care is not new, of course.  Section 2718(e) of the Public Health Service Act (PHS) was added by the Affordable Care Act to require all hospitals to make public, upon request, the standard charges for the items and services they provide.  
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Senate Bill 1264, which recently passed during the 86th Texas legislative session, places restrictions on certain out-of-network providers regarding the practice known as “balance billing” and establishes a process through which health plans and providers may resolve payment disputes. The bill is effective September 1, 2019 and applies to services and supplies provided on or after January 1, 2020.

I.  Balance Billing and SB 1264

The term “balance billing” refers to when a healthcare provider bills a patient for the difference between the reimbursement provided by the patient’s health insurance and the amount charged by the provider. SB 1264 places restrictions on balance billing by out-of-network (OON) providers of emergency services, facility-based services provided at an in-network healthcare facility, and lab and diagnostic imaging services that are related to an in-network service. The law disallows these providers from billing a patient for an amount greater than the applicable copayment, coinsurance, and deductible under the health plan based on the initial amount determined to be payable by the plan, or if applicable, a modified amount determined under the plan’s appeal process.
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Bipartisan legislation to address surprise medical billing was introduced June 19 in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  Most notable for health insurers and providers is the way the bill tackles the biggest sticking point in the issue—mandating a benchmark rate to avoid pay disputes between health insurers and non-network providers.

Surprise medical billing is commonly the result of care received in an in-network facility, such as a hospital, but that included the services of a non-network provider, such as an anesthesiologist who is based at the in-network facility.
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After years of insisting that nursing colleges separately incorporate from related hospitals and hospital systems, causing some schools to relinquish Medicare “pass-through” funding,  the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has changed course. Today, HLC issued a Separate Incorporation Policy Change.

Removing language interpreted by prior HLC leadership as requiring separate incorporation, the revised policy substitutes a requirement that HLC-accredited institutions have a “primary purpose” of providing higher education. More specifically, the revised policy (HLC’s “Jurisdiction” policy, INST.B.10.010):
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For decades, pundits, policymakers and consumer groups have called for better tools to make health care purchasing decisions easier.  Greater cost transparency and clear indicators of quality, they say, would help consumers make the right choices, which would lead to lower costs and better quality care.

If only it were as easy as using Angie’s List:  describe the need and up pops the names of local providers, along with comparative information on their performance.

Increasingly, such information and tools are available.  But their impact is unclear.

Since 2010, Medicare consumers have had an “Angie’s List” type of resource in Physician Compare, an online service produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  The website was mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  It serves a two-fold purpose, according to CMS:
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Courts recognize the complication that exists when determining what constitutes actionable harassment where a healthcare employee is a caretaker for a patient with diminished capacity. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reviewed this issue in a Title VII case that highlights the risks posed to employers in the healthcare and social assistance industries by patient harassment and violence: Gardner v. CLC of Pascagoula, LLC, No. 17-60072 (February 6, 2019). In Gardner, the Fifth Circuit explained the risks to healthcare employers when it reversed summary judgment on a nurse assistant’s claim for hostile work environment and retaliation, holding that a genuine dispute of material fact existed as to whether an assisted living facility took reasonable precautions to prevent sexual harassment and physical violence by a resident.

Background

Gardner was a Certified Nursing Assistant employed at the Plaza Community Living Center, an assisted living facility, and “often worked with patients who were either physically combative or sexually aggressive.” Gardner had been assigned to work with a patient who had been diagnosed with multiple “physical and mental illnesses,” and had a reputation for groping female employees, as well as a history of violent and sexual behavior toward both patients and staff at the facility. Gardner alleged that she put up with propositioning and sexual assault by the patient on a regular basis, but that when she complained to the administrator at the facility, she was told to “put [her] big girl panties on and go back to work.”
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