As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues, the federal government and commercial health insurers have taken significant steps to increase Americans’ access to treatment and testing. In the past week, the federal government and private insurers have issued a number of guidance documents expanding coverage and payment requirements in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus. As with any changes in coverage and reimbursement, healthcare providers offering telehealth services should carefully review these changes and take steps to ensure that all regulatory and coverage requirements are met prior to submitting claims for reimbursement.

I. Medicare

On March 6, 2020, the bipartisan Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020 (“Coronavirus Appropriations Act”) was signed into law authorizing federal spending to combat the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the United States. This Act, among other things, gives the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ (“HHS”) secretary the authority to temporarily waive certain Medicare requirements for telehealth services.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) currently reimburses a limited set of telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries subject to certain criteria under section 1834(m) of the Social Security Act. Generally, the patient receiving telehealth services must be located at one of eight “originating sites”, which include hospitals, physicians’ offices, and rural health clinics. In addition, the originating site must meet certain geographic requirements which have essentially limited the availability of telehealth to patients in rural areas. These requirements have long posed a hurdle to the expansion of telehealth despite the industry’s demand for lessened restrictions. However, with the rapid spread of the coronavirus and the possibility of facing large scale isolations and quarantines, lawmakers have signaled their willingness to expand access to telehealth to fight against this public health crisis.

Within the Coronavirus Appropriations Act is the Telehealth Services During Certain Emergency Periods Act of 2020, which sets forth the waiver authority for the secretary of HHS regarding the certain telehealth requirements. Under the Telehealth Services During Emergency Periods Act, the secretary is authorized to temporarily waive the originating site and geographic requirements for telehealth services provided to Medicare beneficiaries located in an identified “emergency area” during an “emergency period” when provided by a qualified provider. To qualify for the waiver, the provider must have treated the patient within the previous three years or be in the same practice (i.e., as determined by tax identification number) of a practitioner who has treated the patient in the past three years. The bill also lessens the telecommunications requirements by allowing Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services via their smartphones (i.e., telephones that allow for real time, audio-video interaction between the provider and the beneficiary). Because the federal government has declared a nationwide public health emergency as a result of the coronavirus, the waiver will apply across the country until there is no longer a nationwide public health emergency.
Continue Reading Telehealth News Alert: New Coronavirus (COVID-19) Considerations for Telehealth Providers

Recently enacted federal law expanding criminal liability for kickbacks related to all payors, and increased government enforcement activity in behavioral health (see press release), has heightened the importance of clinical due diligence for private equity investors targeting deals and acquisitions in the emerging behavioral health space.  PE firms continue to target behavioral health opportunities as federal and commercial insurance coverage expands for mental health, including substance abuse treatment and telehealth services.  Such commercial coverage will only become more commonplace after a federal court this month found United Behavioral Health improperly denied benefits for treatment of mental health and substance use disorders to plan participants because United’s guidelines did not comply with the terms of its own insurance plans and state law.[1]  PE firms entering the behavioral health market, though, particularly opportunities related to substance abuse treatment and laboratory services, should carefully review a company’s compliance with the Eliminating Kickbacks in Recovery Act of 2018 (“EKRA”).
Continue Reading Private Equity in Behavioral Health: Clinical Due Diligence Requires Consideration of EKRA, the New Anti-Kickback Law Applicable to All Payors

Hospitals are not happy with CMS’ recent changes to hospital outpatient payments.  Two hospital associations and three hospitals claim in a federal lawsuit filed December 4, 2018, that CMS had no authority to change the payment scheme for off-campus provider-based departments (PBDs).  The change took effect January 1, 2019, and is estimated to reduce payments to hospitals by $380 million in the first year of a two-year phase-in period.

The plaintiffs, including the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, are seeking judgment that the payment change is unenforceable as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief.  The complaint against US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs’ assert that the reduced payments threaten patient access to care and harm the providers’ ability to meet the health care needs of their patients, including some of the most vulnerable populations. 
Continue Reading Hospitals React Strongly to CMS’ Changes to Hospital Outpatient Payments