CMS Steps Up Nursing Home Inspections & Tightens Inspections In Response To Continuing Continuing COVID-19 Outbreaks & Deaths

April 3, 2020

Skilled nursing and other long term care facilities commonly known as “nursing homes”  (“LTC facilities”),[i] rehabilitation, assisted living, retirement and other facilities and communities caring for elderly, disabled, aged or other infirm patients or residents should use recently released tools to confirm the adequacy of and update their current COVID-19 and other infectious disease prevention and control and other key policies and practices with the latest Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements and guidelines in light of recently announced changes to CMS nursing home inspection policies (the “Targeted Inspection Policy”)[iii] that target nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks or death for likely inspection announced March 23, 2020 including all existing requirements including new “recommendations” on nursing homes on COVID-19 preparedness and response announced April 2, 2020 (the “April Recommendations”).[iii]

Prompted by the continuing explosive growth in COVID-19 infection and deaths among nursing home residents and widespread deficiencies found during recent inspections at the Kirkland, Washington Life Care Center nursing homes (the “Kirkland Facilities”) made notorious by the death of 23 people and other nursing homes with COVID-19 inspections, the Targeted Inspection Policy and April Recommendations supplement and give more teeth to the CMS Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (the “3/3 Directive”)[iv] previously released by CMS released in conjunction with President Trump’s Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak (“COVID Emergency Declaration”) in response to concerns raised by reports of 19 COVID-19 related deaths at the Kirkland Facilities[v] on March 13, 2020.

Despite CMS and CDC’s efforts to reign in nursing home based COVID-19 infections and deaths by ordering nursing homes in the Nursing Home Directive to limit outside visitors and take other precautions outlined in the Nursing Home Directive and release of other guidance and tools,  nursing home based COVID-19 infections and deaths have continued to soar since March 13, 2020.[vi]  Meanwhile, onsite audits at the Kirkland Facilities and other facilities during March uncovered concerning deficiencies in the compliance at the Kirkland Facilities and many other nursing homes across the nation, as well as the need to address other weaknesses in current CMS and CDC practices and guidelines that the agencies determined were perpetuating practices that left nursing home residents exposed to COVID-19.

The new Targeted Inspection Policy and April Recommendations attempt to address these compliance and other concerns by updating, clarifying and supplementing previously established requirements and guidance, providing new tools for nursing homes and their inspectors to use to assess nursing home compliance with the latest standards and stepping up inspections and enforcement of nursing homes that experience COVID-19 outbreaks.[vii]

April Recommendations Send Warnings, Share New Tools

To this end, the just announced April Recommendations urge nursing homes to move quickly to clean up their practices by:

  • Urging nursing homes to immediately ensure that they are complying with all CMS and CDC guidance related to COVID-19 and other infection control and other requirements;
  • Urging nursing homes immediately to implement symptom screening for all staff, residents, and visitors – including temperature checks; [viii]
  • Urging nursing homes to ensure all staff are using appropriate PPE when interacting with patients and residents, to the extent PPE is available and per CDC guidance on conservation of PPE;
  • Confirming the availability of Medicare coverage of Medicare enrolled residents performed by laboratories and that facilities can allow laboratory personnel into facilities to perform the tests;
  • Urging State and local leaders to consider the needs of long term care facilities with respect to supplies of PPE and COVID-19 tests as nursing homes are a critical part of the healthcare system, and because of the ease of spread in long term care facilities and the severity of illness that occurs in residents with COVID-19,
  • Recommending facilities use separate staffing teams for residents to the best of their ability to avoid transmission within nursing homes in response to evidence that using staff shared between multiple facilities helped to fuel the COVID-19 outbreak in the Kirkland Facilities;
  • Consistent previously published guidance and resources on the CDC Isolation Sites and Alternative Care Sites webpage,[ix] urging nursing homes to work with State and local leaders to designate separate facilities or units within a facility to separate COVID-19 negative residents from COVID-19 positive residents and individuals with unknown COVID-19 status; and
  • Encouraging  facilities to use new targeted survey assessment tools adopted by CMS to guide inspections under the Targeted Inspection Program to self-assess and make appropriate adjustments to tighten their facility compliance with applicable requirements and guidelines promptly.

While characterized as “recommendations,” the reaffirmation in the April Recommendations that CMS intends to continue to follow the new Targeted Inspection Policy announced March 23, 2020 sends a strong message to all nursing homes that CMS does not view compliance with the recommendations as optional.

Under the Targeted Inspection Policy, CMS intends to conduct targeted inspections giving prioritization for Immediate Jeopardy investigations over recertification surveys for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) laboratories.

According to CMS’ announcement regarding the Targeted Inspection Policy, only the following types of federal inspections will be prioritized and conducted over the next few weeks:

  • Complaint inspections: State survey agencies will continue to conduct inspections related to complaints and facility-reported incidents that are triaged at the Immediate Jeopardy level. Inspectors will use a streamlined Infection Control review tool, regardless of the Immediate Jeopardy allegation.
  • Targeted Infection Control inspectionsFederal and state inspectors will conduct targeted infection control inspections of providers identified through CMS collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These inspectors will use a streamlined targeted review checklist to minimize the impact on provider activities, while ensuring providers are implementing actions to protect health and safety.  This will consist of both onsite and offsite inspections.
  • Self-AssessmentsThe Infection Control checklist referenced above will also be shared with providers and suppliers, to allow for self-assessment of their Infection Control plans.  This may be the best solution in some cases when there is a lack of personal protective equipment or state surveyors available.

During this time frame, CMS has indicated it will not conduct the following inspections:

  • Standard inspections for nursing homes, hospitals, home health agencies, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, and hospices; and
  • Revisit inspections not associated with Immediate Jeopardy.

In addition to redefining the priorities and scope for conducting inspections in the new Targeted Inspection Policy, CMS also refocused the inspection process that surveyors are expected to use when conducting inspections under the Targeted Inspection Policy which includes existing components of CMS’s infection control inspection process updated to include the latest CDC and CMS guidance. Under the Targeted Inspection Policy CMS and state inspectors will be guided by a newly developed and updated targeted assessment tool in assessing if certain facilities are prepared to meet CMS’s expectations for preventing the spread of COVID-19.  When gaps are identified, CMS warns that facilities will be required to take corrective actions to close the gaps.

Facilities are well advised to follow the recommendation of CMS to use the new surveyor tools to self-assess their own ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with applicable CMS requirements both to mitigate potential exposures to CMS sanctions and because CMS also is encouraging residents and families to be proactive about nursing home safety by among other things asking facility staff how the facility performed on its self-assessment.  Facilities and their leaders at all times should keep in mind the significant risks that they are likely to incur if significant deficiencies are found from an inspection.  While the March 23, 2020 announcement of the Targeted Inspection Policy states that CMS is not seeking to be punitive, but rather to respond to urgent issues while proactively ensuring providers are compliant with federal health and safety standards.  Accordingly, CMS has indicated that CMS intends to exercise enforcement discretion, unless Immediate Jeopardy situations arise.  Given the conclusions announced regarding Immediate Jeopardy findings found from the inspection at the Kirkland Facility, however, nursing homes are well advised to assume that the occurrence of COVID-19 related deaths or infections at their facilities might create a significant risk of Immediate Jeopardy findings with regard to their facilities which could result in significant sanctions.

CMS and other agencies continue to tailor their response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  In addition to verifying and maintaining their compliance with current COVID-19 and other CMS, CDC and state and local requirements and guidelines, nursing homes and their leaders also should continue to monitor emerging developments and guidance from CMS, CDC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) and their state and local regulatory bodies.

[i]  Nursing homes (also known as “skilled nursing facilities” under the Medicare program and “nursing facilities” under Medicaid; or “long-term care facilities”).

[ii]  Press release Trump Administration Issues Key Recommendations to Nursing Homes, State and Local Governments, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-issues-key-recommendations-nursing-homes-state-and-local-governments (last visited Apr 2, 2020).

[iii] Fact sheet Kirkland, Washington Update and Survey Prioritization Fact Sheet, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/kirkland-washington-update-and-survey-prioritization-fact-sheet (last visited Mar 31, 2020).

[iv]  Guidance For Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES (2020), https://www.cms.gov/files/document/3-13-2020-nursing-home-guidance-covid-19.pdf (last visited Mar 30, 2020).

[iv]  Nursing home with the biggest cluster of covid-19 deaths to date in the U.S. thought it was facing an influenza outbreak, a spokesman says, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/nursing-home-with-the-biggest-cluster-of-covid-19-deaths-to-date-in-the-us-thought-it-was-facing-an-influenza-outbreak-a-spokesman-says/ar-BB11fvgj (last visited Mar 30, 2020).

 [vi]  See e.g., Guidance for Infection Control and Prevention of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Nursing Homes (REVISED), CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/files/document/qso-20-14-nh-revised.pdf (last visited Apr 2, 2020).

[vii]  In the initial wave of surveys during the week of March 30, CMS reports finding 36 percent of facilities inspected in recent days did not follow proper hand washing guidelines and 25 percent failed to demonstrate proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) required by longstanding federal regulations.  Press release Trump Administration Issues Key Recommendations to Nursing Homes, State and Local Governments, CMS (2020), https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-issues-key-recommendations-nursing-homes-state-and-local-governments (last visited Apr 3, 2020).

[viii]  Facilities that have not already done so should consult with experienced legal counsel for assistance about the advisability of providing or posting notifications and/or securing consents to these screening procedures, advisable or recommended procedures regarding the collection, use, or disclosure of screenings or their results, or other safeguards to manage relevant privacy or other legal rights or risks.

[ix]  See Alternate Care Sites and Isolation Sites (March 25, 2020) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/healthcare-facilities/alternative-care-sites.html. Also see Topic Collection: Alternate Care Sites (including shelter medical care) https://asprtracie.hhs.gov/technical-resources/48/alternate-care-sites-including-shelter-medical-care/47.

More Information

We hope this update is helpful. In addition to this update, the author also has prepared a more comprehensive discussion of these concerns scheduled for publication by the American Bar Association Health Publication in April, 2020.  To request access for a prepublication unofficial manuscript of that upcoming publication or of more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively on pandemic, business and other crisis planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.

Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.

This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, as well as a multitude of other health industry matters, workforce and health care change and crisis management and other highly regarded publications and presentations, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here. ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Limited non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ All other rights reserved.


COVID-19 Telehealth Relief; CMS ESRD, General Practitioner Telehealth Toolkits Released

March 24, 2020

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released two comprehensive toolkits on telehealth:

  • The Telehealth Toolkit for General Practitioners available here;
  • The End-Stage Renal Disease Providers Toolkit available here.
  • The Toolkits’ release follows up on last week’s Centers for Medicare & Medicare Services (“CMS”) loosening of requirements for Medicare coverage of telehealth services and privacy and data security requirements so that beneficiaries can receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility on a temporary and emergency basis under the 1135 waiver authority and Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act.
  • COVID-19 Emergency TeleHealth Waivers
  • Under this new waiver, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country and including in patient’s places of residence starting March 6, 2020. 
  • A range of providers, such as doctors, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, will be able to offer telehealth to their patients.
  • New TeleHealth Toolkits
  • Each of the telehealth toolkits released today contains electronic links to reliable sources of information on telehealth and telemedicine, which will reduce the amount of time providers spend searching for answers and increase their time with patients. Many of these links will help providers choose learn about the general concept of telehealth, choose telemedicine vendors, initiate a telemedicine program, monitor patients remotely, and develop documentation tools. Additionally, the information contained within each toolkit will also outline temporary virtual services that could be used to treat patients during this specific period of time.

    • COVID-19 Limited HIPAA Privacy Telehealth Relief
  • Previously last week, HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced relief providing covered health care providers subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules greater latitude for communicating with patients, and providing telehealth services, through remote communications technologies during the COVID-19 national emergency, OCR also published a bulletin advising covered entities of further flexibilities available to them as well as obligations that remain in effect under HIPAA as they respond to crises or emergencies available here.
  • According to the OCR Notice, a covered health care provider that wants to use audio or video communication technology to provide telehealth to patients during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency can use any non-public facing remote communication product that is available to communicate with patients. OCR is exercising its enforcement discretion to not impose penalties for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth using such non-public facing audio or video communication products during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. This exercise of discretion applies to telehealth provided for any reason, regardless of whether the telehealth service is related to the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions related to COVID-19.

    The OCR Notice temporarily allows HIPAA-covered health care providers to use some, but not all popular applications that allow for video chats, including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype, to provide telehealth without risk that OCR might seek to impose a penalty for noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules related to the good faith provision of telehealth during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency. This relief, for example, allows a health care provider during the COVID-19 emergency in the exercise of his or her professional judgement to request to examine a patient using a video chat application connecting the provider’s or patient’s phone or desktop computer in order to assess a greater number of patients while limiting the risk of infection of other persons who would be exposed from an in-person consultation.

    Under this Notice, however, Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok, and similar video communication applications are considered “public facing,” which OCR says health care providers should not use in the provision of telehealth.

    The Notice encourages health care providers to notify patients that these third-party applications potentially introduce privacy risks, and providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using such applications.

    Covered health care providers that seek additional privacy protections for telehealth while using video communication products should provide such services through technology vendors that are HIPAA compliant and will enter into HIPAA business associate agreements (BAAs) in connection with the provision of their video communication products. The Notice states that some vendors that represent to OCR that they provide HIPAA-compliant video communication products and that they will enter into a HIPAA BAA include:

    • Skype for Business
    • Updox
    • VSee
    • Zoom for Healthcare
    • Doxy.me
    • Google G Suite Hangouts Meet

    However the Notice also states OCR has not reviewed the BAAs offered by these vendors, and this list does not constitute an endorsement, certification, or recommendation of specific technology, software, applications, or products. There may be other technology vendors that offer HIPAA-compliant video communication products that will enter into a HIPAA BAA with a covered entity. Further, OCR does not endorse any of the applications that allow for video chats listed above.

    Under this Notice, however, OCR will not impose penalties against covered health care providers for the lack of a BAA with video communication vendors or any other noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules that relates to the good faith provision of telehealth services during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency.

    Guidance on BAAs, including sample BAA provisions, is available here. Additional information about HIPAA Security Rule safeguards is available here.

    Beyond the Notice, HealthIT.gov has technical assistance on telehealth here.

    CMS continues to monitor the developing COVID-19 situation and assess options to bring relief to clinicians. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19 click here www.coronavirus.gov. For complete and updated information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

    More Information

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations Group, HR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as: 

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.


    Providers, Patients Still Need To Confirm Coverage Specifics Despite Insurers Agreemnet To Provide No Deductible Coronavirus Testing & Other Expanded Coverage; Self-Insured Plans Not Covered By Announced Deal

    March 11, 2020

    Following up on the White House’s announcement yesterday that major health insurers, Medicare and Medicaid would  cover medically necessary testing and expand coverage for treatment of 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“coronavirus), without applying deductibles or coinsurance and offer expanded telemedicine and other coverage for coronavirus care, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) today issued guidance giving health plans confirming health plans waiving deductibles won’t violate the Internal Revenue Code health savings account high deductible health plan rules.  However many employer or other sponsors of self-insured health plans may need to amend their health plans and take other steps if they want their health plans to provide similar coverage.  Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) relased updated guidance to help businesses, schools, and other organizations to operate safely during the current outbreak.  Consequently providers and patients still must confirm the exact coverage a health plan or insurer providers for treatment.

    Coronavirus Testing & Other Health Coverage Health

    Major health insurers agreed in a Whitehouse Coronavirus Taskforce meeting yesterday to cover medically necessary testing and extend coverage to medically necessary treatment. The agreement only technically binds Medicare, Medicaid and other government programs  and private insurers participating in the meeting. It does not automatically extend coverage or waive deductibles for self-insured employer or union sponsored health plans which provide coverage for an estimated 61 percent of covered U.S. worker and their families. Self-insured plan sponsors wishing to provide similar coverage and waive deductibles generally will need to take specific action to amend their plans and related contracts and communications.

    Vice President Pence announced the agreement with insurers yesterday saying among other things:

    I’m pleased to report, as you requested, Mr. President, that all the insurance companies here — either today or before today — have agreed to waive all copays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans.

    And, at your direction, Medicare and Medicaid, last week, already made it clear to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries that coronavirus testing and treatment would be covered. These private insurance carriers have extended that as well.

    They’ve also agreed to cover telemedicine so that anyone, particularly among the vulnerable senior population, would not feel it necessary to go to a hospital or go to their doctor. They’ll know that telemedicine is covered.

    While the announcement indicates that insurers involved in the meeting plan to expand coverage and waive deductibles,  self-insured employer and union sponsored plans aren’t technically covered by the agreement.  While  many employers sponsoring self-insured health plans will want their health plan to provide similar coverage as part of their risk management response to the coronavirus outbreak. Self-insured plan sponsors and fiduciaries should confirm appropriate plan language is adopted and that their stop loss insurance carriers are on board or other arrangements are made to plan for and cover costs, and that other plan vendors are on board to handle responsibilities.

    In the meantime, the widespread lack of understanding among plan members about the distinction between insured and self-insured plans coupled with the breadth of the unqualified announcement by the White House is likely to fuel confusion by covered individuals and their providers.  Not only will covered persons and providers need to know whether the program is insured or self-insured, they also will need to confirm how each of these programs implements the expanded coverage.

    IRS Guidance Clears Way For High Deductible Health Plans To Raise Deductibles

    Employers and health plans wishing to waive deductibles for coronavirus testing will not have to worry that waiving the deductible will violate IRS high deductible health plan (“HDHP”) rules, however.  Earlier today, the IRS provided relief allowing high deductible health plans to pay these expenses without disqualifying their programs for high deductible health plan treatment under the Code in Notice 2020-15. The Notice provides that, until further guidance is issued, a health plan that otherwise satisfies the requirements to be a HDHP under Code section 223(c)(2)(A) will not fail to be an HDHP under section 223(c)(2)(A) merely because the health plan provides health benefits associated with testing for and treatment of COVID-19 without a deductible, or with a deductible below the minimum deductible (self only or family) for an HDHP.  Also due to this guidance, an individual covered by the HDHP will not be disqualified from being an eligible individual under section 223(c)(1) who may make tax-favored contributions to a health savings account (HSA).

    CDC Resources Provide Guidance On Safe Operation Through Outbreak

    Along with the heath plan developments, many employer and other busines and community leaders are confronting how to deal d new resources today to help businesses, schools and others keep their people and locations safe at here.

    Business & Other Disruptions Response

    Along with dealing with the threat of the disease itself, the efforts to manage the disease outbreak, many businesses also are forced to deal with demand losses, supply and business interruptions, staffing shortages, unanticipated expenses and a wide range of other operational and financial disruptions that are side effects of the outbreak and its management.

    The outbreak has and continues to prompt the cancellation of a plethora of business, trade, government, school, and sports and entertainment events.  Notable for its involvement in heath care and related insurance matters, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (“NAIC”)is one of a growing number of event sponsors that are allowing workers to work from home, are cancelling or banning participation in   live meetings and other events and/or are converting from live to virtual formats in response to the outbreak.   Trade and business associations, entertainment and sports and otehr venures also are impacted.  For instance, the NAIC announced its decision to move its meetings to a purely virtual format today.  According to the announcement, the National Spring Meeting that had been scheduled to take place in Phoenix next week is cancelled.  Instead, the NAIC announced the following tentative schedule:

    A revised schedule with dates, times and call-in numbers will be available on Naic.org next week. 

    Concerning the reasons for its decision, the NAIC explained:

    Recently, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has exceeded 100,000 worldwide, including over 1000 confirmed U.S. cases in 36 jurisdictions. Given rapidly changing information and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our members, guests and staff, the NAIC officers, in consultation with NAIC members, have decided to hold the Spring National Meeting in a virtual-only format. 

    The NAIC is only one of a multitude of events cancelled or converted to a virtual format in the wake of fears of the coronavirus outbreak as US officials try to stem the spread of the virus.  See e.g., Coronavirus updates in Texas: Community spread, school cancellations and more; Colleges and Universities Cancel Classes and Move Online Amid Coronavirus Fears; Coronavirus and sports: Seattle Mariners will move their home games, Golden State Warriors will play without fans and CBI is canceled.  

    The financial consequences of staffing or supply shortages, declines in product or services demands, event cancellations, cleaning and other costs and a host of other side effects present such a widespread risk to many businesses that many are facing layoffs or even banktuptcy.  While President Trump and other federal and state leaders are promising employment tax holidays and other relief to try to mitigate some of these financial effects, businesses impacted by these disruptions should begin assessing and planning to execute options to mitigate losses and manage these risks as soon as possible to maximize their potential ability to take advantage of options to restructure debt or contractual obligations, adjust workforce staffing, and make other adjustments successfully to weather the pandemic storm and fallout.  When considering these options, businesses will want to understand the relative complete costs of reductions in hours, furloughs, contractual adjustments and other options to make and execute their choices as well as possible.

    More Information

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

    About the Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively on pandemic, business and other crisis planning, preparedness and response for more than 30 years.

    Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

    This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

    Author of “Privacy and the Pandemic Workshop” for the Association of State and Territorial Health Plans, as well as a multitude of other health industry matters, workforce and health care change and crisis management and other highly regarded publications and presentations, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:  

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.


    Gastroenterology Practices Pays $100K For HIPAA Noncompliance

    March 3, 2020

    The $100,000 settlement payment the medical practice of Steven A. Porter, M.D., has agreed to pay $100,000 to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to settle a potential violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Security Rule Serves as a warning to other physicians and healthcare providers that they too could pay big bucks for failing to comply with HIPAA. The resolution agreement and corrective action plan may be found here.

    Dr. Porter’s medical practice provides gastroenterological services to over 3,000 patients per year in Ogden, Utah.

    OCR began investigating Dr. Porter’s medical practice after it filed a breach report with OCR related to a dispute with a business associate. OCR’s investigation determined that Dr. Porter had never conducted a risk analysis at the time of the breach report, and despite significant technical assistance throughout the investigation, had failed to complete an accurate and thorough risk analysis after the breach and failed to implement security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level.

    Many physician and other small healthcare providers underestimate their responsibilities or their exposure for noncompliance. Many have never conducted the necessary risk analysis or initially adopted the requisite policies and procedures to comply. Furthermore, practices relying upon outsourced management or compliance services for their HIPAA compliance need to ensure that they have appropriate business associates agreements with those and all other service providers. While OCR typically takes into account efforts to obtain services as evidence of a culture of compliance, when breaches happen in the practice or at the business associate, A physician or other healthcare provider can expect OCR to investigate their compliance and potentially their culpability for the breach.  physicians and other healthcare providers also should not assume that their engagement of a service HIPAA to comply with or provide HIPAA compliant services equates to making that service provider accountable for the quality in adequacy of the services.Typically service providers and consultants limit their liability contractually and otherwise when providing these services, often do not have adequate compliance themselves, or both. Licensing agreements and other services contracts typically include various provisions excusing or limiting the service provider from liability for deficiencies in compliance resulting from inadequacies in their procedures, operational noncompliance or both. In some instances, business associates may include provisions in their business associate agreement or other related agreements that actually obligate the healthcare provider to defend and indemnify the service provider for breaches and other liabilities arising out of HIPAA noncompliance. Since the cost of investigating and defending an alleged complaint can be very expensive even if no penalties are sought by OCR, most physicians and other healthcare providers should explore the availability of insurance coverage to help protect against these expenses.

    “All health care providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “The failure to implement basic HIPAA requirements, such as an accurate and thorough risk analysis and risk management plan, continues to be an unacceptable and disturbing trend within the health care industry.”

    In addition to the monetary settlement, Dr. Porter will undertake a corrective action plan that includes two years of monitoring.

    Physicians and other healthcare providers need to keep in mind that OCR penalties are not the only risk of HIPAA violations. Noncompliance with these requirements also commonly gives rise to licensing board, peer review, and other professional, employment or contractual consequences as well as negative publicity. 

    The resolution agreement demonstrates OCR requires physicians shouldn’t expect OCR to look the other way when they violate HIPAA. Given the potential professional and monetary liability risk that result from complaints and violations, physicians and other healthcare Should consult with qualified legal counsel for assistance with assessing the adequacy of their current clients within the scope of attorney-client privilege. Additionally, in the event of a complaint or threaten complaint, physicians and other healthcare providers should take appropriate steps to conduct a documentary investigation. As discussions and activities conducted in association with such investigations can involve sensitive communications and information, it also is advisable to consult with legal counsel at the beginning of an issue to determine whether the investigation or other activities should be conducted within the scope of attorney-client privilege so as to minimize exposure of sensitive communications as admissions or another discoverable evidence for administrative or litigation proceedings.

    More Information

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

    About the Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.  

    Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

    This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

    Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:  

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.


    ONC Adds Reducing Provider EHR Burdens & Promoting Electronic Health Data Use In Research To Health IT Priorities

    February 25, 2020

    Reducing health care providers burdens from using electronic health records (“EHRs”) and promoting the better uses of electronic medical data in medical research are the focus of two new health information technology (“health IT”) policy documents released this week by the Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (“ONC”).   Health care providers, health researchers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and other health data collectors or users, as well as health IT providers and other interested persons will want to evaluate carefully these new ONC releases for insights about policy and other efforts ONC is promoting to shape the use of health IT and data.

    Reducing Health IT and EHR Burdens On Providers

    On February 21, 2020, ONC moved forward on its efforts to implement “a comprehensive strategy to reduce the regulatory and administrative burden related to the use of health IT, including EHRs” by publishing its “Strategy on Reducing Regulatory and Administrative Burdens Relating to the Use of Health IT and EHRs” (the “EHR Report”) targets burdens tied to regulatory and administrative requirements that HHS can directly impact through the rulemaking process.  A collaborative effort between ONC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the report’s strategies was developed in response to a Congressional mandate in the 21st Century Cures Act, which directed HHS to develop a plan of action to reduce regulatory and administrative burden relating to the use of health IT and EHRs and finalizes the draft version of this strategy  ONC released in November 2018. Based on stakeholder input, the final HER Report outlines three overarching goals designed to reduce clinician burden:

    • Reduce the effort and time required to record health information in EHRs for clinicians;
    • Reduce the effort and time required to meet regulatory reporting requirements for clinicians, hospitals, and healthcare organizations; and
    • Improve the functionality and ease of use of EHRs.

    ONC says reducing unnecessary regulatory burden will alleviate time spent on administrative tasks. For example, during listening sessions with clinicians, we heard criticism that the documentation guidelines for Evaluation and Management (E/M) visits were a source of EHR-related burden and overly complicated. They told us these requirements result in “pajama time,” where physicians spend hours after clinic sessions and on weekends entering data to satisfy billing and quality reporting requirements. Poor usability features within EHRs can further exacerbate this issue, as clinicians find it difficult to navigate long records within the EHR interface. Based on this feedback, the report covers four key areas:

    • Clinical documentation
    • Health IT usability (or ease of use of health IT tools and systems)
    • Federal health IT and EHR reporting requirements
    • Public health reporting (including coordination with prescription drug reporting programs and electronic prescribing of controlled substances).

    In addition to responding to the direction included in the EHR Report, health care and health IT providers also will want to continue to monitor and communicate with ONC.  While moving forward on the implementation of the objectives identified in the EHR Report, ONC says it plans to continue to reach out and engage the clinician community and other key stakeholder communities and to monitor emerging and ongoing burdens related to the use of EHRs, such as burdens related to EHR inbox management and other efforts to enable further automation in health care, with a focus on prior authorization, quality reporting, and other aspects of our current system that can reduce time spent using health IT.

    Leveraging Health IT For Research

    On February 24, 2020, ONC followed up by releasing its National Health IT Priorities for Research: A Policy and Development Agenda. The Agenda articulates its latest vision of a health information technology infrastructure that supports alignment between the clinical and research ecosystems in research.

    The Agenda identifies two overarching goals along with nine associated priority areas ONC believes stakeholders can take to achieve the respective visions more quickly and effectively:

    Read the Agenda here.

    More Information  

    The Agenda is the latest in a series of priorities, agendas and other initiatives adopted by ONC since its establishment in furtherance of its legislative mandate under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act) of 2009 to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities through the use of technology and health information.  

    Health care providers, plans, technology vendors and providers and other stakeholders impacted by ONC and other electronic medical record or health IT systems should take into account the likely implications of these and other ONC pronouncements on their programs and practices when planning and updating them.

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the these or other health or other legal, management or public policy developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

    About the Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.  

    Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EHR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

    This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EHR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

    Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.  

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:  

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  


    Court Ruling Gives Health Care & Other HIPAA Covered Entities Option To Reduce Costs of Responding To 3rd Party PHI Record Requests

    January 29, 2020

    Health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses and their records providers and other business associates should review and update their existing policies and practices on the charge and other procedures for responding to third party requests for records containing protected health information (“PHI”)  in response to newly allowed flexibility created by the January 23, 2020 federal district court order (the “Coix Order”) in Coix Health, LLC v. Azar, et al, No 18 –CV-0040 (D>D.C. January 23, 2020) that bars enforcement of certain requirements of the Department of Health & Human Service (“HHS”) Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) rules implementing patient rights to access to PHI created by the Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) from health plans, health care providers, health care clearinghouses (“”Covered Entities”) and their business associates (“HIPAA entities”).  Utilizing the flexibility resulting from the Coix Order could help reduce health plan costs of compliance with the HIPAA right of access rule by allowing the health plan and its records providers more freedom to determine the charges and format for delivering PHI in response to records requests received from other insurers, lawyers and other third parties.  

    Coix Order  Invalidates Pieces of OCR HIPAA Rules On PHI Record  Rules 

    The new flexibility results from a January 23, 2020 Coix Order in response to a lawsuit brought by Coix Health, LLC (“”Coix”) challenging the “Patient Rate” and other provisions of OCR’s regulation implementing HIPAA’s right of access requirements under 45 C.F.R. §164.524 as adopted by OCR as part of its final rule entitled “Modifications to the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Enforcement Rules Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act; Other Modifications to the HIPAA Rules.”  (The “2013 Omnibus Rule”) on January 25, 2013.   In particular, the 2013 Omnibus Rule includes a “Patient Rate” rule that limits the charges that Covered Entities can make for delivering PHI requested by patients and third parties to prevent patient access to PHI from being thwarted by excessive fees.  As part of the Patient Rate rule, OCR restricted what Covered Entities and their records providers can charge to provide copies of protected health information.  The Patient Rate rule restricts charges that can be imposed to provide protected health information, restricts the methods for calculating these charges and limits the type and amount of labor costs that can be included when calculating the Patient Rate. The Patient Rate rule in the 201 Omnibus Rule also requires that Covered Entities and their records companies provide the requested PHI directly to the patient or to a third party designed by the patient and in the format requested by the patient regardless of the format in which the Covered Entity or its medical provider maintains the PHI within its record.  

    When originally implemented, the medical records industry generally understood that the Patient Rate limitations applied only to requests for PHI made by the patient for use by the patient.  Before 2016, however, Covered Entities and their medical records providers generally understood that this Patient Rate rule did not apply to or limit fees that Covered Entities or their medical records providers could charge commercial entities or other third parties like insurance companies and law firms to fill requests for PHI.  That understanding changed, in 2016, however, when HHS issued guidance that stated that the Patient Rate applies even to requests to deliver PHI to third parties.  

    A specialized medical-records provider that contracts with healthcare suppliers nationwide to maintain, retrieve, and produce individuals’ PHI, Cox handles tens of millions of requests for records containing PHI annually including demands by healthcare providers for treatment purposes, patients asking for their own PHI, and third parties, such as life insurance companies and law firms, seeking a patient’s PHI for commercial or legal reasons.  According to Cox, OCR’s interpretation of the Patient Rate rule as applicable to third party requests as well as direct patient requests cost it and other medical records companies millions of dollars in revenue. Accordingly, Coix filed the Coix Health, LLC v. Azar, et al lawsuit challenging OCR’s 2016 application of the Patient Rate to third party requests as violating the procedural and substantive protections of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). In addition to this challenge to the scope of the Patient Rate, Coix also contested OCR pronouncements in the 2016 guidance document on (1) the types of labor costs that are recoverable under the Patient Rate; and (2) the three alternative methods identified for calculating the Patient Rate as violating the APA’s procedural and substantive provisions. Finally, Coix also challenged the requirement in the Patient Rate rule that records companies to send PHI to third parties regardless of the format in which the PHI is contained and in the format specified by the patient. According to Coix, Congress required only that certain types of electronic health records be delivered to third parties, not all records regardless of their format, as HHS’s regulations now command.  

    In its January 23, 2020 ruling on HHS’s motion to dismiss and the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the D.C. District Court agreed with OCR that OCR’s rule requiring the use of one of three methods for calculating the Patient Rate was unreviewable as a final agency action and dismissed Coix’ challenge to that requirement. Concerning Coax’s other challenges, the Court sided with Coix.  It ruled that:  

    • OCR’s 2013 rule compelling delivery of PHI to third parties regardless of the records’ format is arbitrary and capricious insofar as it goes beyond the statutory requirements set by Congress;  
    • OCR’s broadening of the Patient 3 Rate in 2016 is a legislative rule that the agency failed to subject to notice and comment in violation of the APA; and  
    • OCR’s 2016 explanation concerning what labor costs can be recovered under the Patient Rate is an interpretative rule that OCR was not required to subject to notice and comment.  

    Accordingly, District Court in the Coix Order declares unlawful and vacates (1) the 2016 Patient Rate expansion and (2) the 2013 mandate broadening PHI delivery to third parties regardless of format within the individual right of access” set forth in the provisions of 45 C.F.R. §164.524 of the 2013 Omnibus Rule insofar as it expands the HITECH Act’s third-party directive beyond requests for a copy of an electronic health record with respect to protected health information of an individual in an electronic format.” Additionally, the federal court ordered that the fee limitation set forth at 45 C.F.R. § 164.524(c)(4) only apply to an individual’s request for access to their own records, and does not apply to an individual’s request to transmit records to a third party.  

    OCR Plans To Comply With Coix Order In Applying Patient Record Rule 

    In an “Important Notice Regarding Individuals’ Right of Access to Health Records” released January 28, 2020, OCR announced that that it will comply with the Coix Order vacating the “third-party directive” within the individual right of access “insofar as it expands the HITECH Act’s third-party directive beyond requests for a copy of an electronic health record with respect to [protected health information] of an individual  . . . in an electronic format.” Additionally, OCR stated that the fee limitation set forth at 45 C.F.R. § 164.524(c)(4) will apply only to an individual’s request for access to their own records, and not apply to an individual’s request to transmit records to a third party.   However, OCR also added that the right of individuals to access their own records and the fee limitations that apply when exercising this right are undisturbed and remain in effect.  OCR will continue to enforce the right of access provisions in 45 C.F.R. § 164.524 that are not restricted by the court order.  

    Update Patient Rate & Access Provisions Of HIPAA Policies & Notices 

    As a result of the Coix Order, Covered Entities and their medical records providers still must calculate the Patient Rate in accordance with one of the three allowed methodologies when providing a patient with records containing PHI in response to a patient request.  However, Covered Entities and their medical records provider now may exercise greater flexibility when determining the format and charges when responding to requests from third parties other than the patient for records containing PHI.  Before doing so, however, most Covered Entities and business associates will want to update their HIPAA policies and procedures to reflect the new practices consistent with the new HIPAA and other relevant requirements.  Updating the policies first is important because the 2013 Omnibus Rule states Covered Entities violate HIPAA by failing to follow their own HIPAA privacy and security policies when those practices are more restrictive than those mandated by OCR’s 2013 Omnibus Rule.  Consequently however, Covered Entities and their medical records companies desiring to exercise this newly available flexibility should revise their existing policies and procedures to authorize their exercise of this new flexibility consistent with the Coix Order and associated OCR guidance. 

    More Information  

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about the Coix Order or other health or other employee benefits, human resources, or health care developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.  

    About the Author  

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.  

    Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades of pragmatic, leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has continuously and extensively worked with domestic and international health plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators, and insurers; managed care and insurance organizations; hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, self-insured health and other employee benefit plans, their sponsors, fiduciaries, administrators and service providers, insurers and other payers, health industry advocacy and other service providers and groups and other health and managed care industry clients as well as federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies.  

    This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.  

    Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here 

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:  

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.  

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation considering the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law constantly and often rapidly evolves, subsequent developments that could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion are likely. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone of any  fact or law specific nuance, change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.  

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.  

    ©2020 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved. 


    OCR Warns HIPAA Entities To “Get Serious” About HIPAA Compliance In Announcing Latest Settlement Against Ambulance Company

    December 31, 2019

    The $65,000 payment and corrective action plan commitments West Georgia Ambulance, Inc. (“West Georgia”) is making to settle Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) charges it recurrently violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) Security Rule sends a warning to all oher HIPAA-covered health care providers, health plans, health care clearighouses  and their business associates (“covered entities”)maintain and be prepared to defend their own HIPAA compliance under a Resolution Agreement and Corrective Action Plan (“Resolution Agreement”) OCR announced on December 30, 2019.

    The Resolution Agreement resolves charges resulting from an OCR investigation initiated in response to a HIPAA breach report the Georgia based ambulance company filed in 2013 in which the company, which provides emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in Carroll County, Georgia,  disclosed the loss of an unencrypted laptop containing the protected health information (PHI) of 500 individuals. The breach occurred when an unencrypted laptop fell off the back bumper of an ambulance. The laptop was not recovered.  West Georgia reported that exactly 500 individuals were affected by the breach.

    In the course of its investigation of the breach report, OCR’s investigation uncovered long-standing noncompliance with the HIPAA Rules, including failures to conduct a risk analysis, provide a security awareness and training program, and implement HIPAA Security Rule policies and procedures. Specifically, the Resolution Agreement states that West Georgia:

    • Did not conduct an accurate and thorough risk analysis of the potential risks and vulnerabilities to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all of its ePHI. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(1)(ii)(A);
    • Failed to have a HIPAA security training program, and failed to provide security training to its employees. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.308(a)(5);
    • Failed to implement Security Rule policies or procedures. See 45 C.F.R. § 164.316; and
    • Despite OCR’s investigation and technical assistance, “did not take meaningful steps to address their systemic failures.”

    To resolve its exposure to the substantially higher civil monetary penalties that OCR could impose for violations of this nature, West Georgia agreed to pay a $65,000 resolution payment to OCR and implement and comply with a corrective action plan that in addition to requiring West Georgia to correct the compliance deficiencies, also subjects West Georgia to two years of OCR monitoring and oversight.

    The Resolution Agreement and corrective action plan carry a number of important messages for other health care providers and other Covered Entities.  First, the OCR enforcement action against West Georgia coming at the end of yet another heavy HIPAA enforcement year by OCR reminds Covered Entities that OCR is serious about HIPAA enforcement on the heels of its 2018 HIPAA record setting collection of $28.7 million in civil monetary penalties and resolution payments including the single largest individual HIPAA settlement in history of $16 million with Anthem, Inc. See OCR Concludes 2018 with All-Time Record Year for HIPAA Enforcement.  While not topping this record, OCR during 2019 now has collected civil monetary penalties and resolution payments totaling more than $15 million from HIPAA Covered Entities and their business associates including:

    Second, the Resolution Agreement and various other smaller settlements during the year show HIPAA compliance and enforcement is a concern for smaller provideres and other covered entities, not juswt the huge ones.  While the $65,000 settlement payment required by the Resolution Agreement is substantially smaller than the amounts of the civil monetary penalties and many of resolution payments OCR collected in its other 2019 enforcement actions, the West Georgia and other 2019 enforcement actions demonstrate the teeth behind the warning in the OCR Press Release announcing the West Georgia Resolution Agreement from OCR Director Roger Severino that“All providers, large and small, need to take their HIPAA obligations seriously.”  With OCR promises to keep up its vigorous investigation and enforcement of the HIPAA requirements, every Covered Entity and business associate should take the necessary steps to verify and maintain their HIPAA compliance and to be prepared to defend their compliance under the Privacy, Security, Breach Notification and HIPAA access and other individual rights mandates of HIPAA.

    Third, OCR’s statement in the Resolution Agreement about the failure by West Georgia to meaningfully act to correct compliance deficiencies and cooperate in other corrective action during the period following the breach report highlights the importance for covered entities involved in a breach or other dealings with OCR on a potential compliance concern to behave appropriately to  express and exhibit the necessary concern OCR expects regarding the compliance issue to position themselves to request and receive the clemency OCR is empowered under HIPAA to extend when deciding the sanctions for any noncompliance.

    Of course meeting the requirements of HIPAA is not the only concern that covered entities should consider as they review and tightened their HIPAA and other privacy and data security procedures.  Health care providers and other covered entities also should keep in mind their other obligations to protect patient and other confidential information under other federal laws, the requirements of which also are ever-evolving.  For instance, on January 1, 2020 Texas providers like other Texas businesses will become subject to a shortened deadline for providing notice of data breaches under a new law enacted by the Texas Legislature in its last session.  Arrangements should be designed to fulfill all of these requirements as well as any ethical or contractual.

    Covered entities also should keep in mind that violations of HIPAA can have implications well beyond HIPAA.ramifications beyond HIPAA itself.  For instance, heath care providers can face disqualification from federal program participation, licensing and ethics discipline and other professional consequences.  Health plans and their fiduciaries also may face Department of Labor and other fiduciary claims, while insurers can face licensing and other regulatory consequences.

    For More Information

    We hope this update is helpful. For more information about this or other labor and employment developments, please contact the author Cynthia Marcotte Stamer via e-mail or via telephone at (214) 452 -8297.

    Solutions Law Press, Inc. invites you receive future updates by registering on our Solutions Law Press, Inc. Website and participating and contributing to the discussions in our Solutions Law Press, Inc. LinkedIn SLP Health Care Risk Management & Operations GroupHR & Benefits Update Compliance Group, and/or Coalition for Responsible Health Care Policy.

    About the Author

    Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: ERISA & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications.

    Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group, Ms. Stamer has extensive legal, operational, and public policy experience advising and representing health care, health care and other entities about HIPAA and other privacy, data security, confidentiality and other matters.

    Ms. Stamer’s work throughout her 30 plus year career has focused heavily on working with health care and managed care, health and other employee benefit plan, insurance and financial services, public and private primary, secondary, and other educational institutions, and other public and private organizations and their technology, data, and other service providers and advisors domestically and internationally with legal and operational compliance and risk management, performance and workforce management, regulatory and public policy and other legal and operational concerns.  As a part of this work, she has recurrently worked extensively with public school districts and public and private primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, academic medical, and other educational institutions, insured and self-insured health plans; domestic and international hospitals, health care systems, clinics, skilled nursing, long term care, rehabilitation and other health care providers and facilities; medical staff, accreditation, peer review and quality committees and organizations; billing, utilization management, management services organizations, group purchasing organizations; pharmaceutical, pharmacy, and prescription benefit management and organizations; consultants; investors; EMR, claims, payroll and other technology, billing and reimbursement and other services and product vendors; products and solutions consultants and developers; investors; managed care organizations, employers; and federal and state legislative, regulatory, investigatory and enforcement bodies and agencies on health care, education, and other data privacy, security, use, protection and disclosure; disability and other educational rights; workforce, and a host of other risk management and compliance concerns.

    Ms. Stamer is most widely recognized for her decades-long leading edge work, scholarship and thought leadership on health and other privacy and data security and other health industry legal, public policy and operational concerns.  This  involvement encompasses helping health care systems and organizations, group and individual health care providers, health plans and insurers, health IT, life sciences and other health industry clients prevent, investigate, manage and resolve  sexual assault, abuse, harassment and other organizational, provider and employee misconduct and other performance and behavior; manage Section 1557, Civil Rights Act and other discrimination and accommodation, and other regulatory, contractual and other compliance; vendors and suppliers; contracting and other terms of participation, medical billing, reimbursement, claims administration and coordination, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, Medicare/Medicaid Advantage, ERISA and other payers and other provider-payer relations, contracting, compliance and enforcement; Form 990 and other nonprofit and tax-exemption; fundraising, investors, joint venture, and other business partners; quality and other performance measurement, management, discipline and reporting; physician and other workforce recruiting, performance management, peer review and other investigations and discipline, wage and hour, payroll, gain-sharing and other pay-for performance and other compensation, training, outsourcing and other human resources and workforce matters; board, medical staff and other governance; strategic planning, process and quality improvement; meaningful use, EMR, HIPAA and other technology,  data security and breach and other health IT and data; STARK, ant kickback, insurance, and other fraud prevention, investigation, defense and enforcement; audits, investigations, and enforcement actions; trade secrets and other intellectual property; crisis preparedness and response; internal, government and third-party licensure, credentialing, accreditation, HCQIA and other peer review and quality reporting, audits, investigations, enforcement and defense; patient relations and care;  internal controls and regulatory compliance; payer-provider, provider-provider, vendor, patient, governmental and community relations; facilities, practice, products and other sales, mergers, acquisitions and other business and commercial transactions; government procurement and contracting; grants; tax-exemption and not-for-profit; privacy and data security; training; risk and change management; regulatory affairs and public policy; process, product and service improvement, development and innovation, and other legal and operational compliance and risk management, government and regulatory affairs and operations concerns. to establish, administer and defend workforce and staffing, quality, and other compliance, risk management and operational practices, policies and actions; comply with requirements; investigate and respond to Board of Medicine, Health, Nursing, Pharmacy, Chiropractic, and other licensing agencies, Department of Aging & Disability, FDA, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD, FTC, SEC, CDC and other public health, Department of Justice and state attorneys’ general and other federal and state agencies; JCHO and other accreditation and quality organizations; private litigation and other federal and state health care industry actions: regulatory and public policy advocacy; training and discipline; enforcement;  and other strategic and operational concerns.

    Author of leading works on HIPAA and a multitude of other health care, health plan and other health industry matters, the American Bar Association (ABA) International Section Life Sciences Committee Vice Chair, a Scribe for the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) Annual OCR Agency Meeting and a former Council Representative, Past Chair of the ABA Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, former Vice President and Executive Director of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, past Board President of Richardson Development Center (now Warren Center) for Children Early Childhood Intervention Agency, past North Texas United Way Long Range Planning Committee Member, and past Board Member and Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, and a Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Counsel, the American Bar Foundation and the Texas Bar Foundation, Ms. Stamer also shares her extensive publications and thought leadership as well as leadership involvement in a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For more information about Ms. Stamer or her health industry and other experience and involvements, see www.cynthiastamer.com or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

    About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

    Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources available here such as:

    If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

    NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advice or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The author and Solutions Law Press, Inc. disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify anyone any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

    Circular 230 Compliance. The following disclaimer is included to ensure that we comply with U.S. Treasury Department Regulations. Any statements contained herein are not intended or written by the writer to be used, and nothing contained herein can be used by you or any other person, for the purpose of (1) avoiding penalties that may be imposed under federal tax law, or (2) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any tax-related transaction or matter addressed herein.

    ©2019 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ For information about republication, please contact the author directly. All other rights reserved.


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