Tag Archives: hhs

Cybersecurity and Emergency Preparedness for Long-Term Care

On January 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) sent a Memorandum (“Memo”) to State survey agency directors encouraging long-term care providers to “consider cybersecurity when developing or reviewing their emergency preparedness plans.” The Memo was a follow-up to the CMS long-term care emergency preparedness rule published in the Federal Register on September 16, 2016: “Medicare and Medicaid Programs; Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Medicare and Medicaid Participating Providers and Suppliers.” Under that final rule, long-term care facilities were held to additional standards, including requirements to have emergency and standby power systems in place. Nursing homes were also required to create plans regarding missing residents that could be activated regardless of whether the facility has activated its full-scale emergency plan. The rule was spurred on by recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and other emergency disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, according to CMS.

Whether State surveyors will actually enforce lack of cybersecurity plans for emergency preparedness as violations remains to be seen from this Memo. But certainly, a State survey agency could impose deficiencies for failure to have a proper cybersecurity plan and/or a proper cybersecurity back‑up plan as part of a facility’s emergency preparedness going forward. It is not clear why CMS decided to send this encouragement Memo three months after the Final Rule on emergency preparedness, but it likely has something to do with the fact that 2016 was a banner year for HIPAA privacy infractions and HIPAA enforcement by the Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”), the entity responsible for HIPAA compliance. In 2016, payouts for HIPAA violations skyrocketed to record heights of $23.51 million from OCR enforcers against health care providers. That number was triple the previous record of almost $7.94 million in payouts in 2014, followed by $6.19 million in payouts in 2015.

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Government Cracks Down On Nursing Home Use of Social Media

On August 5, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a Survey and Certification Memorandum (Notice) urging State health departments to enforce violations by nursing homes in posting patient images on social media. This development was interesting given that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the enforcer of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules, presumably should already be cracking down on any such violations of resident rights as a violation of HIPAA. According to Modern Healthcare, increased instances of nursing home staff inappropriately posting resident pictures on social media may have sparked this pronouncement by CMS.

Specifically, CMS will more strictly enforce, through State agencies, corrective actions to ensure that employee postings of residents in a degrading manner do not occur in the nursing home setting. Interestingly, the Notice does not discuss nursing homes reporting such employee conduct to OCR, but does indicate that employees should report such postings on social media of residents as abuse “to at least one law enforcement agency.” Continue reading Government Cracks Down On Nursing Home Use of Social Media

ACOs are More Important Than Ever for LTC Facilities

On January 26, 2015, the United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced its timeline for shifting Medicare reimbursements from volume-based criteria to value-based criteria. HHS has adopted a framework that categorizes health care payments according to how providers receive payment to provide care:

•  Category 1—fee-for-service with no link of payment to quality
•  Category 2—fee-for-service with a link of payment to quality
•  Category 3—alternative payment models built on fee-for-service architecture
•  Category 4—population-based payment

In Monday’s announcement, HHS disclosed its initiative to drive more of the Medicare payments to categories 3 and 4. This is the first time in history that HHS has set explicit goals for alternative payment models and value-based payments.  HHS declared: “Improving the quality and affordability of care for all Americans has always been a pillar of the Affordable Care Act, alongside expanding access to such care. The law gives us the opportunity to shape the way health care is delivered to patients and to improve the quality of care system-wide while helping to reduce the growth of health care costs.”

By the end of 2016, HHS has set a goal of tying 30 percent of traditional, fee-for-service, Medicare payments to quality or value through alternative payment models, such as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) or bundled payment arrangements. By the end of 2018, the goal is 50 percent of these payments.

An ACO is an organization of health care providers that agree to be accountable for the quality, cost, and overall care of a group of Medicare beneficiaries. Reimbursement is tied to quality metrics to reduce the total cost of care for the assigned population of patients. Hospitals and physicians have been forming ACOs, and HHS’s most recent initiative should drive even more dollars in this direction.

However, in our experience, long-term care facilities (LTC Facilities) have been slow to adopt the ACO model. Refusal to join an ACO could result in fewer referrals from hospitals and other providers, since ACO members will refer to the facility (or facilities) within the ACO. LTC Facilities with high ratings for their Quality Measures (on Nursing Home Compare) and low re-hospitalization rates will be more attractive to ACOs.  Now is the time to join an ACO, before it is too late.

WellPoint Pays HHS $1.7 Million to Settle HIPAA Security Violations

Covered Entities Cautioned Regarding Use of Business Associates

On July 8, 2013, health insurer WellPoint, Inc. entered into a Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (HHS), agreeing to pay HHS $1.7 million to resolve an HHS complaint regarding violations of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules during the period of October 23, 2009, through March 7, 2010. WellPoint reported a breach of electronic protected health information (ePHI) on June 18, 2010, leading to an HHS investigation that commenced on September 9, 2010.

The WellPoint matter serves as a reminder to HIPAA-covered entities and subcontractors that are business associates to comply with the HIPAA Security Rule and to prudently oversee the services provided by these business associates.

Click here to read the full Alert.

Increased Spotlight on Emergency Department Facility Coding by CMS, HHS and DOJ

Although the professional component of coding for evaluation and management services (“E&M Services”) has been scrutinized over the years, until recently, little attention has been given to coding practices for the facility component of these services—including emergency department facility services. In a September 24, 2012, letter written by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); and Eric Holder, Jr., Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, to hospital leadership throughout the United States, HHS and the Justice Department expressed their concern that hospitals may be inappropriately coding E&M Services. Specifically, the letter notes that “CMS is initiating more extensive medical reviews to ensure that providers are coding evaluation and management services accurately.” In light of the recent attention on emergency department facility component coding practices, an area that so far has largely been overlooked by the regulators, any facility that has not reviewed its coding practices for the facility component of E&M Services may want to consider doing so at this time.

Click here to read the full Alert.

California Spotlights Mobile Applications and Privacy: The Impact on the App (Including the mHealth) Industry

The relationship between privacy and mobile applications is coming into focus. On February 27, 2012, the California Attorney General entered into a Joint Statement of Principles with the six largest mobile application companies – Apple, Google, H-P, Microsoft, Amazon and RIM – regarding consumer privacy and transparency issues when data is collected through an app. http://ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/press/pdfs/n2647_agreement.pdf. The Five Principles set parameters for good practice. Although not legally binding, the AG promises to review compliance in the fall, and may use California laws on privacy, false advertising, unfair business practices and others as enforcement tools. Since California often leads the way in privacy enforcement it is likely that other states will follow suit.

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Warning: If You Handle Protected Health Information (PHI) or Personally Identifiable Information (PII), Buy Data Breach and Security Incident Insurance!

We live in the data age where every day a new technology is announced in business- and consumer-oriented ecommerce and mobile health (mhealth). In response, in recent years, federal and state legislators have enacted strict data privacy and security laws, such as HIPAA, COPPA, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley, to protect data whether in electronic (IT) or physical form. This data is known as protected health information under HIPAA and personally identifiable information under other statutes. New federal and state laws also mandate comprehensive data breach responses, including notifications to individuals whose PHI or PII was breached and some agencies and state attorneys general. The shared premise behind these laws is that the public expects the highest standard of data protection from businesses and government. (Whether or not this is true – after all we regularly give our credit card numbers to anonymous persons over the phone – is a subject for another day…)

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HHS OIG Notice Seeks Comments on Safe Harbors, Special Fraud Alerts

Once a year, as required by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) solicits proposals to develop new or revised anti-kickback, fraud and abuse safe harbors. The OIG published its request for proposals for new or revised safe harbors in the December 29, 2011 Federal Register. The notice also seeks comments on developing special fraud alerts.

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HHS Issues Guidance on ‘Essential Health Benefits’ under ACA

On December 16, 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a guidance bulletin detailing its current thinking on the implementation of ‘essential health benefits’ (EHB) under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Specifically, the bulletin addresses covered services under the ACA’s mandate that certain insurers provide EHB by 2014. The ACA defines EHB as:

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HHS Awards Planning Grants to States to Establish Insurance Exchanges

The Department of Health & Human Services (“HHS”) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius recently announced the distribution of $220 million to states for the creation of private health-insurance exchanges. Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Vermont were the state recipients in this latest funding effort, and Rhode Island is the first state to receive a Level Two grant geared towards states in more advanced planning stages. State health insurance exchanges are expected to start operating in 2014. Currently only 13 states have enacted legislation to establish insurance exchanges; though 49 states have received planning grants so far.

Read HHS’ full press release here.