Comment & Begin Preparation For Compliance With Proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule Changes

December 21, 2020

Health care providers, health plans and health insurers, health care clearinghouses (“Covered Entities”) and their business associates should budget and begin compliance plans, even as they comment on proposed changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule announced by the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights (“OCR”) in its December 10, 2020 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Proposed Rule).  While the official Federal Register publication date has yet to be announced, OCR already is accepting comments pending the official publication. To assure consideration, comments must be received by OCR no later than 60 days from that official Federal Register publication date. 

More than 300 pages in length, the proposed HIPAA Privacy Rule changes include changes OCR intends to strengthen individuals’ rights to access their own electronic and other health information; improve information sharing for care coordination and case management for individuals; facilitate greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises; enhance flexibilities for disclosures in the Opioid and COVID-19 public health emergencies or other emergency or threatening circumstances; and reduce administrative burdens on HIPAA covered health care providers and health plans. Highlights of some of the more significant proposed changes that the Proposed Rule will make if adopted as proposed include:

Individual Access Rights Expanded

The Proposed Rule includes a number of changes that if adopted as proposed, will increase significantly the burdens upon Covered Entities of complying with the individual access requirements of the Privacy Rule.  Among other things, these include the following:

  • Responding To Access Requests.  The Proposed Rule calls for:
  • Reducing the maximum period that Covered Entities have to respond to requests to “as soon as practicable,” but in no case later than 15 calendar days after receipt of the request” instead of current 30 calendar days; 
  • Clarifying the current requirement for Covered Entities to provide PHI in the form and format requested by the individual if “readily producible” in that form and format by providing that “readily producible” includes secure, standards-based APIs using applications chosen by the individuals, such as a “personal health application” and protect individual’s rights to take notes, videos, and photographs, or use other personal resources to view or capture PHI in person;
  • Requiring Covered Entities to allow individuals access to inspect or obtain copies of their own PHI Free of charge when inspecting in person or accessing PHI on the internet, but continue to permit certain fees for labor, supplies, and postage for certain other means of access in accordance with Privacy Rules parameters.  In acquiescence to the District Court’s January, 2020 holding that the prohibition against Covered Entities charging for third party copies in the current regulations exceeded its statutory authority in Ciox Health, LLC v. Azar, however the Proposed Rule would allow Covered Entities to charge limited fees to an individual directing transmission of an electronic copy of PHI to a third party under specified circumstances.  The Proposed Rule also would require Covered Entities to provide advance notice of estimated fee schedules on their websites (if they have one) for common types of requests for copies of PHI and, upon request, provide individualized estimates of fees for copies and an itemized list of actual costs for requests for copies. 
  • Right to Direct Copies to Third Parties.  The Proposed Rule will require  Covered Entities to transmit electronic PHI in an electronic health record to another Covered Entity as part of the individual’s access right.  In addition, also in response to the Coix Health, LLC ruling, the Proposed Rule will limit the current right of an individual to direct a copy of PHI to a third party to an electronic copy and will specify that third party direction request need not be in writing as long as it is “clear, conspicuous, and specific.”
  • Verification. The Proposed Rule also would prohibit a Covered Entity from imposing “unreasonable” identity verification measures on an individual, including notarization of requests, requiring the individual to provide proof of identity in person when remove verification would be practicable, or requiring the individual to complete a full HIPAA authorization form for an access request.

Encouraging Care Coordination and Case Management Activities

The Proposed Rule also would make a number of changes that OCR believes will remove the barriers created in the current Privacy Rule to Covered Entities, whether a health care provider or health plan, engaging in individual-level care coordination and case management activities.  Some of the key elements of these changes include the following:

  • Clarification of Rules For Individual-Level Care Coordination. The Proposed Rule would revise existing rules regarding sharing of information for individual-level care coordination to apply to Covered Entities involved in such coordination activities, whether or not the participating Covered Entity is participating in the actual care or treatment of the individual by:
    • Revising the definition of “health care operations” in the current version of the Privacy Rule to clarify that the Privacy Rule allows sharing of PHI for individual-level care coordination among Covered Entities whether or not the participating Covered Entity is one involved in treatment or non-treatment involved Covered Entities such as health plans;
    • Revises the current minimum necessary restriction on the disclosure of PHI for purposes of individual-level care coordination to treat all Covered Entities engaging in individual-based care coordination and case management activities the same, regardless of whether performing the activities under the “treatment” or “health care operations” functions as defined by HIPAA.  Currently non-treatment involved Covered Entities participating in care coordination and case management can only receive and share the minimum necessary PHI as their lack of involvement in treatment disqualifies them for reliance upon the treatment exception to the Privacy Rule’s general requirement to limit disclosures to the minimum necessary.
    • The Proposed Rule also would allow Covered Entities to disclose PHI to community-based organizations, home and community-based services (HCBS) providers, social services agencies, and other similar third parties providing health-related services for individual-level care coordination and case management without obtaining a valid authorization from the individual.

Required Updates To Notices of Privacy Practices

The Proposed Rule also would change the Privacy Rule Notice of Privacy Practices (“NPP”) requirements in a manner that would require most Covered Entities to update their NPPs and associated privacy policies. In the Proposed Rule, OCR proposes:

  • Replacing the requirement that certain Covered Entities that have a direct treatment relationship with an individual obtain, and retain copies of, written acknowledgements from that individual confirming their receipt of the NPP with a right for the individual to discuss the NPP with a designee of the Covered Entity.
    • Modification of the required NPP content to include an additional description and instruction as to how individuals can exercise their access rights and a new, more detailed and instructive, required header meeting new specifications about the information the NPP provides to individuals with respect to their rights, how to exercise them, and the availability of the Covered Entity’s designated contact person.

Disclosures to Family Members and Other Caretakers in Certain Situations

Continuing a trend that OCR has followed over the past several years in its other guidance, the Proposed Rule also would modify the Privacy Rule under specified conditions to facilitate if not encourage health care providers more broadly to disclose PHI to family members or other caretakers of individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) or serious mental illness (SMI) and in emergency situations with less concern about exposing themselves to liability under HIPAA.  The key elements of these changes are accomplished as follows:

  • The Proposed Rule would replace the current language that allows Covered Entities to make certain uses and disclosures of PHI based on their “exercise of professional judgment” with  language allowing disclosure based on a Covered Entity’s “good faith belief” that the use or disclosure is in the best interests of the individual and add a presumption of good faith by the health care provider for this purpose.
    • The Proposed Rule would enable Covered Entities to disclose PHI to avert a threat to the health or safety of a person or the public when a harm is “serious and reasonably foreseeable,” instead of the current stricter requirement that the Covered Entity see a “serious and imminent” threat to health or safety.

Clarification Regarding Disclosures to TRS Providers

The Proposed Rule also would amend the current Privacy Rules to remove  telephone relay service providers (“TRS providers”) from the definition of “business associates” and expressly to allow disclosures to TRS communications assistants for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who have a speech disability.

Act Now

HIPAA Covered Entities, business associates and other concerned or impacted persons immediately should begin evaluating the Proposed Rule as soon as possible.  As the current comment will end 60 days after the impending publication of the Proposed Rule in the Federal Register, concerned persons desiring a change to any provision of the Proposed Rule should prepare and submit appropriate comments to OCR in a timely fashion within the comment period.  In addition, all Covered Entities and their business associates should review the rule  in preparation for its provisions taking effect with a particular eye toward understanding the actions necessary to comply with the modified rules and to budget the financial and operational resources likely to be required to accomplish that compliance.

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 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’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.

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.  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: 

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CMS Relief Allows Pharmacies, Other Medicare Immunizers To Bill For LTC Patient Immunizations

October 16, 2020

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today it will allow Medicare-enrolled pharmacies and other immunizers to bill directly and receive direct reimbursement from the Medicare program for vaccinating skilled nursing facility residents under its COVID-19 discretionary enforcement. See CMS Special Edition 10/16/2020).

Typically, skilled nursing facilities are required to include and bill for the immunizations under Medicare rules but CMS is waiving this requirement temporarily as part of its effort to get residents immunized. CMS, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Drug Administration and other health care leaders view immunization against the flu a critical component of their effort to protect elderly nursing home patients against another surge of COVID-19 outbreaks this Fall.

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 legal and operational management work, coaching, public policy and regulatory affairs leadership and advocacy, training and public speaking and publications. As a significant part of her work, Ms. Stamer has worked extensively domestically and internationally on an demand, special project and ongoing basis with health industry, health plan and insurance and other business, government and community organizations and their leaders, spoken and published extensively on HIPAA and other privacy and data security concerns, as well as other health care and health benefits;  human resources, employee benefits and other workforce and services; insurance; workers’ compensation and occupational disease; business reengineering, disaster and distress;  and many other management concerns.

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Board Certified in Labor and Employment Law By the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, Scribe for the ABA JCEB Annual Agency Meeting with OCR, Vice Chair of the ABA International Section Life Sciences Committee, and the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group 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 has extensive experience advising, representing, defending and training health care providers, health plans and insurers, employers, community organizations and others about HIPAA and other privacy concerns and has published and spoken extensively on these concerns.

Her involvement with HIPAA and other privacy and data concerns has taken place as part of her more than 30 years involvement working with with public and private health industry, health insurance and other employers and organizations of all sizes, employee benefit plans, insurance and financial services, health industry and a broad range of public and private domestic and international business, community and government organizations and leaders on pandemic and other health and safety, workforce and performance preparedness, risks and change management, disaster preparedness and response and other operational and tactical concerns throughout her adult life. A former lead advisor to the Government of Bolivia on its pension  project, Ms. Stamer also has worked internationally and domestically as an advisor to business, community and government leaders on crisis preparedness and response, privacy and data security, workforce, health care and other policy and enforcement, as well as regularly advises and defends organizations about the design, administration and defense of their organizations workforce, employee benefit and compensation, safety, discipline and other management practices and actions.

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Ms. Stamer also serves in leadership of a broad range of professional and civic organizations and shares insights and thought leadership through her extensive publications and public speaking. 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. Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press, Inc.


CMS Steps Up Nursing Home Inspections & Tightens Inspections In Response To 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:

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