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Boston, Massachusetts 02108-3002

Phone: (617) 720-2444
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Bill Mandell was Quoted in ED Legal Letter – Boston, MA

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bill Mandell was quoted in the attached article Are ED Policies Inflexible? featured in the publication ED Legal Letter (November 2015), discussing the importance of having good EMTALA policies for hospitals and their medical staffs. To see the article click here.

 

 

Quality Metrics and Physician Guidelines in Malpractice – Boston, MA

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Bill Mandell, Head of Pierce & Mandell’s Health Law Practice, was recently quoted in an article appearing in the publication, ED Legal Letter, on the use of quality metrics and physician guidelines in malpractice suits. To see the article click here.

 

 

Direct Primary Care: A New Form of Primary Care Delivery for Massachusetts and the US?

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

One of the great pleasures we have as health lawyers is the opportunity to work with caring and innovative professionals who are constantly striving to re-engineer and improve our system of health care delivery for their patients.

One such new innovation taking root here in Massachusetts, and growing around the country, is direct primary care (DPC), a new model of primary care that offers affordable access to primary physicians.

DPC is rendered by primary care physicians who have opted to withdraw from all government programs and health insurance plans and alternatively charge a set amount for a defined scope of services, including both standard preventive and diagnostic services generally covered by health insurance, as well as additional personalized features associated with concierge type practices. Unlike concierge medicine, however, part of the established fee covers medically necessary services.

Patients who sign up with a DPC primary care physician will pay out of pocket, but it may well become a bargain if they are enrolled in an increasingly prevalent high-deductible health insurance plan.

A Boston public radio station, WBUR, just did a story focused on DPC in Massachusetts and interviewed our client, Jeff Gold, M.D. Dr. Gold shared his experiences so far as one of the first DPC practices operating in Massachusetts. The story can be found at http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/05/direct-primary-care-doctor-availability.

As Dr. Gold states in the story, Massachusetts should permit DPC practices to render services for a fixed fee without requiring regulation as a form of insurance. DPC is recognized under the federal Affordable Care Act as one of many options that should be available to consumers looking to secure more affordable access to health care. If DPC encourages medical students to choose internal and family medicine as their specialties and encourages 50 and 60 something primary care physicians to remain in active practice longer, it could actually help solve - and not exacerbate -- the current national primary care physician shortage.

Dr. Gold is a pioneer in a rapidly changing health care market, but he will hardly be the last physician who looked at the current system and decided he could do better for his patients while realizing his own aspirations of spending more time with patients and less time on insurance claims, pre-approvals and other paperwork.

William M. Mandell is the leader of Pierce & Mandell’s health law practice and can be reached at 617-720-2444 or bill@piercemandell.com.

Addiction Treatment Centers in Massachusetts Being Overrun By Epidemic

Joseph Coupal - Tuesday, May 05, 2015

By Brandon Saunders

Governor Charlie Baker’s recent description of drug addiction in Massachusetts as a “public health emergency” is a welcome acknowledgement of a crisis that is swamping treatment centers, hospitals and the criminal justice system. The Governor is asking a task force he assembled to come back with strategies for dealing with addiction, treatment and recovery. Those recommendations are expected soon.

Governor Baker’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Marylou Sudders, describes the problem in stark terms: "The costs associated with treating opioid addiction are great, however inaction or not labeling it for what it is - which is an epidemic - is actually much greater," Secretary Sudders said, as the Baker task force held public meetings to better understand the threat. "I recognize that there are no quick fixes and that we have lots to do."

The scale of this crisis is unprecedented. In 2014, there were more than 1,000 accidental opiod-based drug overdoses in Massachusetts, and 868 confirmed opiod overdoses the year before that. The state Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Substance Abuse Services (BSAS) reports that 107,358 people in Massachusetts were admitted into a substance abuse program in fiscal year 2014, 44 percent of whom reported prior mental health treatment, and nearly 60 percent self-reported heroin use. Those numbers reflect only those who were admitted to rehabilitation centers.  A large number of addicts refuse treatment.

These individuals repeatedly present themselves to the emergency department of acute care hospitals, putting an even greater strain on an already overrun system.  Once their acute conditions are treated, physicians at the facilities prescribe substance-abuse treatment, but often to no avail.  In my representation of a large, Boston-based acute care hospital, I have dealt with individuals who had presented themselves to the ER more than a hundred times in one year for substance-abuse related conditions.

Under existing Massachusetts law, those suffering from severe drug or alcohol addiction can be involuntarily committed to a treatment program for up to 90 days. The law that enables interested parties to commit someone to a treatment center (Chapter 123, Section 35) establishes a process by which family members, a physician, or legal guardian can petition a district court judge to order that commitment when all other efforts have failed.

The reality, however, is that Section 35 cannot cope with the rising tide of addiction, particularly for the uninsured or MassHealth recipients who are invariably sent to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (MASAC) at the Bridgewater State Hospital for men, and MCI Framingham for women under an involuntary commitment. Both of those facilities are chronically overcrowded and underfunded, resulting in a “spin dry” detox that often sends them out on the streets after just 10 days without a real opportunity for a meaningful change or lasting sobriety that the 90-day commitment might have afforded. And then the cycle repeats itself.

Acute care hospitals are not the only system choking under the pressure of untreated addiction.  The systemic failure to successfully treat addiction is also swamping our criminal justice system. Those who continue down the path of addiction are often arrested and prosecuted for drug- or alcohol-related offenses, contributing to overcrowded conditions in state and county correction facilities when they might have been more successfully, and more appropriately, treated in a substance abuse or mental health facility.

Governor Baker is to be commended for taking this issue on, but it will take the leaders of our healthcare and legal systems, together with our elected officials, to get ahead of what is still a rising tide of needless deaths and hopeless addiction. We need to solve the ineffective and often wasteful ways we handle substance abuse and addictions in the Commonwealth and hopefully these most recent initiatives will move us in the right direction.

Brandon Saunders is an associate attorney at Pierce & Mandell LLC in Boston and specializes in guardianships, incapacitated adults and civil commitments

Medicare Physician Payment: A Brave New MACRA and MIPS World

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, April 30, 2015

By William Mandell, Esq. and Karen Rabinovici, Esq.

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (“MACRA”)  --  passed this month in an unusual bipartisan effort  -- permanently repealed the Medicare Part B Sustained Growth Rate formula that would have resulted in a 21.2% cut to physician reimbursement scheduled to take effect on  April 1, 2015. It also notably establishes a new Medicare Part B performance driven payment system.

Under MACRA – which became effective on April 1, 2015 -- the Medicare Part B payment system for physicians has undergone perhaps its most dramatic change since the enactment of Medicare in 1965 or certainly since the adoption of the RBRVS fee system. MACRA gradually increases Medicare Part B rates over the next 4 ½ years and will then reward or penalize physicians financially based on measures of their performance. During this initial 4 ½  year period, Medicare participating doctors will receive a 0.5% increase each year as Medicare transitions away from a primarily fee-for-service system to one designed to reward physicians based on the quality of the care that they provide.  The first increase takes effect on July 1, 2015, followed by annual 0.5% increases going into effect each January 1 through 2018.  From January 2020 through 2025, there are no increases to rates but physician will be subject to performance based adjustments. For 2026 and beyond, physicians who are participating in alternative payments systems will be eligible for an annual update of 0.75% with all others receiving a 0.25% increase.

Between this year and 2018 the Physician Quality Reporting System, Meaningful Use, and the Value-Based Payment Modifier programs continue in their current form. Beginning in 2019, these program will end and elements of each will be included in a new Merit-based Incentive Payment System.

The MIPS Medicare Part B reimbursement system goes into effect in 2019 and is intended to move physician and other professional Part B reimbursement from a fee-for-service to a quality and performance driven system. Under MIPS physicians, and other practitioners such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists and certified registered nurse anesthetists, participating in the Medicare program will be evaluated via a composite score based on four factors: quality, resource use, meaningful use, and clinical practice improvement activities. Each doctor’s composite score will result in positive or negative adjustments to Medicare reimbursement based on the doctor’s performance on these factors. Physicians may receive a bonus or be assessed a penalty that will be calculated using a sliding scale based on whether the doctor is above or below performance thresholds.

MACRA requires the United States Department of Health and Human Services to establish an annual list of quality measures from which doctors and other MIPS-eligible professionals may choose for purposes of assessing the quality factor. HHS is also required to establish MIPS performance standards that consider historical performance, improvement and the opportunity for continued improvement.

Under MACRA there is a provision that prohibits plaintiffs from using a physician's performance on federal quality measures, including MIPS as well as the remainder of the Meaningful Use, Physician Quality Reporting System and Value-Based Payment Modifier programs, as the sole basis to prove negligence in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Before the passage of MACRA the medical community was very concerned about the use of quality metrics as evidence by plaintiffs as a basis to assert that a doctor committed negligence. Now medical malpractice plaintiffs may not assert a negligence claim against a doctor on the sole basis that he or she did not earn an incentive or was penalized under any federal health care guideline or standard, used in the MU, PQRS, VBPM or MIPS programs. Furthermore, the fact that a physician did not render a service covered under the Affordable Care Act may not be the sole fact to assert that a physician breached his or her duty of care to a patient.

The MACRA liability protections, however, do not totally prevent the introduction of these facts into evidence in a medical malpractice case. And, it certainly does not go as far as legislation that has been sought by many medical associations that would have provided immunity from liability and other civil suit protections for doctors who are sued and can prove they followed any evidence-based clinical guidelines.

MACRA provides $100 million in funding -- $20,000,000 for each of the fiscal years 2016 through 2020 --   to underwrite technical support to small medical practices with 15 or fewer professionals that desire to participate in the new alternative payment models.  HHS is to work with quality improvement organizations and other regional entities certified by the federal government to provide guidance to such small practices on how to prepare for and transition to quality driven reimbursement, with priority given to rural practices, locations with provider shortages, and medically underserved areas.

In order to devise alternative payment models, develop measures to judge the quality of care provided, and determine how physicians will be rewarded or penalized based on their performance, MACRA mandates the establishment of a 11 person technical advisory committee This committee is charged with reviewing and recommending physician-developed alternative payment models based on criteria developed through an open comment process. Not later than July 2016, HHS is required to submit to Congress a study on the feasibility of integrating alternative payment models in the Medicare Advantage payment system.

MACRA also establishes Medicare payment for chronic care management when performed by a physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or certified nurse midwife.

Alternatively, physicians who choose to participate in ongoing and future new payment models such as accountable care organizations (ACOs), patient-centered medical homes, and initiatives under Medicaid waivers can receive annual bonuses of 5 percent for services in 2019-2024 and not be subject to MIPS requirements.

As with any major federal health reform legislation many more details will be forthcoming in agency rules and other implementation actions required under the law. So while much has yet to be seen, what is clear is that all medical practices and other Part B providers must begin to prepare now for adapting to a substantially overhauled Medicare reimbursement system where performance measures will drive payments and the infrastructure needed to capture and utilize performance data effectively will be essential to maximizing revenues and fulfilling patient expectations and payer requirements.

If you would like more information about any part of MACRA, please do not hesitate to contact us.

William Mandell is a shareholder and health law practice leader, and Karen Rabinovici is an associate, at Pierce & Mandell, P.C, of Boston. 

Obama Administration Announces “Next Generation ACOs”

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, March 19, 2015

by Curtis Dooling

On March 10th, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched a new Accountable Care Organization (ACO) program called the Next Generation ACO. The Next Generation ACO builds on earlier ACO models. ACOs were established under the Affordable Care Act to provide high-quality care to Medicare beneficiaries through coordination of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers. ACOs differ from Medicare Advantage plans in that beneficiaries can retain their choice of providers, whereas in Medicare Advantage plans beneficiaries are confined within a network.

The Next Generation ACO will differ from existing ACOs in several ways. First, they will be permitted to take on greater financial risk while also qualifying for a greater portion of shared savings. Next Generation ACOs will also be encouraged to coordinate care by enhancing and expanding services to beneficiaries, including skilled nursing care and post-discharge home services. Next Generation ACOs will also be able to offer reward payments to beneficiaries.

ACOs traditionally created care and performance benchmarks based on an ACO’s historical expenditures. Thus, some high performing health care providers were reluctant to joint ACOs. Next Generation ACOs are changing benchmarking methods to transition away from comparisons to past performance. By making this change, high performing health care systems will have a greater incentive to join the ACO program because they won’t be penalized for past quality and cost containment success.

Next Generation ACOs represent a bold move toward population-based payment and greater care coordination. They also allow for greater engagement of beneficiaries, a more predictable financial model and greater tools to coordinate care for beneficiaries. For further information on Next Generation ACOs, visit: innovation.cms.gov/initiatives/Next-Generation-ACO-Model/.

William M. Mandell was quoted in the July 2014 Physician Risk Management

Joseph Coupal - Thursday, July 24, 2014

William M. Mandell was quoted in the July 2014 Physician Risk Management article entitled: “Sunshine Act reporting has implications for malpractice litigation”.

 

Systems Engineering and Health Care Reform - Boston

Joseph Coupal - Friday, July 18, 2014

By: Michael C. Fee, Esq. and William M. Mandell, Esq.

While reasonable minds may debate the methodologies and cost shifting associated with the Affordable Care Act, it is undeniable that millions of individuals have gained access to the health care system this year as a result of its implementation.  Increased access brings many challenges for professionals at all levels to provide high quality care that focuses first on the needs of individual patients and their families.

In a provocative article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Monday, Doctors Christine K. Cassel and Robert S. Saunders argue that the health care system needs to aggressively implement systems engineering in order to improve efficiency and reliability.  They note growing traction for the concept, as the President’s Counsel of Advisors on Science and Technology (“PCAST”) recently issued a report describing systems engineering tools for health care in detail, but also noting significant impediments to implementation, especially in rural and small practice settings.

The PCAST makes a variety of recommendations, including payment incentives that are tied to outcomes (as opposed to the current predominant fee for service system); increased access to health data and analytics, including vast pools collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; greater technical assistance in systems engineering approaches especially for small practices; and encouraging Accountable Care Organizations to collaborate more broadly with community health organizations and other providers outside of their traditional sectors.

The authors conclude that health care delivery transformation is essential to achieving the primary goals of affordability, quality and creating healthy communities.  As the Affordable Care Act is further implemented over the next several years, systems engineering science, broadly supported by the Federal government, is likely to become a core function for improving the health care delivery system. Moreover, as reform begins to transform the insurance driven aspects of the system, improved quality and coordination of care imperatives will likely motivate physicians, medical groups, hospitals and other providers to explore new types of contracting relationships, integration and expansion strategies.  Massachusetts continues to be at the forefront of these developments, having implemented health care reform well ahead of the Affordable Care Act.

Read the Cassell/Sanders article, and check out the PCAST recommendations.

Lawyers in Pierce & Mandell’s Health Law Department provide creative, effective advice to hospitals, physicians, medical practices and professionals on a broad range of business, compliance and litigation matters. www.piercemandell.com/health-law.html.

Pierce & Mandell, P.C. to Sponsor the Annual Schwartz Center Health Attorneys Breakfast - Boston

Joseph Coupal - Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Pierce & Mandell, P.C. is proud to be a sponsor law firm for the Annual Schwartz Center Health Policy Breakfast, to be held on Friday, April 4. This year’s program will focus on the Schwartz Center's Call to Action, which outlines seven guiding commitments to create a more compassionate healthcare system. Peter Slavin, MD, CEO of MGH; Sandra Fenwick, CEO of Boston Children’s Hospital; and Kevin Tabb, MD, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, will comment on the Commitment to Compassionate Healthcare Leadership.
 
The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, named after Boston healthcare attorney and patient compassion advocate, Ken Schwartz. Ken was an excellent health lawyer and a wonderful person who left us tragically way too early. His family, friends and colleagues have established a fitting and enduring organization in his honor. The Schwartz Center is a nationwide non-profit organization with a long and respected history of providing patient-centered, compassionate care while striving to strengthen the relationships between patients and providers.  

In 1995 Ken wrote about his experience as a cancer patient in an article for the Boston Globe Magazine entitled “A Patient’s Story.”  In it, he cited how doctors and nurses can make “the unbearable bearable” for patients with “the smallest acts of kindness.” This article was a source of strength and solidarity for my late father who was undergoing cancer treatment at that time.

Please take a moment to learn about the history and remarkable work of The Schwartz Center for Compassionate Care and we encourage all of you who care about improving the training and resources available for compassionate care to support the Schwartz Center.

The HIPAA/HITECH Mega Rule Compliance Deadline is Fast-Approaching

Joseph Coupal - Monday, September 09, 2013
By Karen Rabinovici, Esquire

The September 23, 2013 deadline for compliance with the final Omnibus Rule which amends HIPAA and the HITECH Act, called the “Mega Rule,” is just 15 days away.  The Mega Rule, which became effective on March 26, 2013, calls for medical providers to update and revise privacy policies, procedures and notices, business associate relationships and agreements, and employee training.  The Mega Rule affects both Covered Entities and Business Associates.  

What is Protected Health Information (“PHI”)?

PHI refers to individually identifiable health information.  Individually identifiable health information is information that can be linked to a particular person.  This can relate to an individual’s past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition, the provision of health care to an individual, or the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to an individual.  Common identifiers are names, social security numbers, addresses, and birth dates.

What is a Covered Entity?

A Covered Entity is a health care provider, a health plan, or a health care clearinghouse.  A health care provider is a Covered Entity only if the provider transmits information in an electronic form in connection with transactions that involve the transmission of information between two parties to carry out financial or administrative activities related to health care.  Simply put, a Covered Entity is any entity that handles and transmits health information.
 
What is a Business Associate?

A Business Associate is a person/entity who, with respect to a Covered Entity, performs or assists in the performance of a function or activity involving the use or disclosure of PHI, or provides management, administrative, accreditation, or financial services to or for a Covered Entity, where such services involve the disclosure of PHI by a Covered Entity to a Business Associate.

The definitions of Covered Entity and Business Associate can be found at 45 CFR 160.103.  

What are the main Mega Rule requirements of which Covered Entities and Business Associates should be aware?

The following are the main components of the Mega Rule of which Covered Entities and Business Associates should be aware and should incorporate into their practices.  This is not a complete list.

1. Extension of HIPAA privacy and security requirements to Business Associates and Subcontractors of Business Associates
Before the Mega Rule, Subcontractors who used or disclosed PHI were not subject to HIPAA.  Now, both Business Associates and third-party Subcontractors can be held accountable for unauthorized disclosures under the Mega Rule.  Business Associates and Subcontractors of Business Associates can be subject to compliance requirements and civil penalties for unauthorized disclosures.  Business Associates and Subcontractors must update Business Associate Agreements to reflect these changes. 
2. Breach redefined
When an impermissible access, acquisition, use or disclosure of PHI occurs, the Mega Rule presumes such transaction is a breach.  Prior to the Mega Rule, such transaction was not a breach unless it posed a significant risk of financial, reputational or other harm to the individual.  In order for a Covered Entity not to be required to notify the patient of the breach, it must demonstrate that there is a low probability that the information was compromised.  This is determined by examining the type and extent of the PHI involved, to whom the disclosure was made, if the PHI was actually acquired or accessed, and if the risk of unauthorized disclosure was mitigated.  This review must be documented according to the Covered Entity’s established policies and procedures.  If Covered Entities do not follow these guidelines, or have established policies and procedures, they could face monetary penalties for willful neglect.  
3. Updates to Notice of Privacy Practices (“NPPs”) and redistribution of NPPs
Covered Entities must update their NPPs, and redistribute the updated NPP.  The updated NPP must include a description of the disclosures that do and do not require authorization, the fact that:  patients can opt out of fundraising and marketing communications, patients can request disclosure restrictions, patients can access their PHI, and Covered Entities are legally required to notify patients whose PHI is breached.  It must also state that any disclosures not described in the NPP may only be made with authorization, and that relevant PHI may be disclosed to a deceased’s family member, friend, or representative if that person was involved in the patient’s care or payment for services (unless the patient expressed otherwise). 
4. Expansion of patient privacy and patient empowerment

The Mega Rule empowers patients to request further restrictions on disclosure of their PHI.  Covered Entities must comply with such requests if the disclosure is for payment or health care operations purposes, the disclosure is not required by law, or if the requested restriction applies to disclosure of a service which has already been paid for in full by someone other than the health plan.

Patients may also specify to whom PHI may or may not be disclosed (friends, family members, etc.).  In addition, patients have the right to access their PHI.  If the Covered Entity maintains PHI in electronic format, the Covered Entity, upon request, must provide the patient with electronic access to the PHI.  Covered Entities may charge patients a reasonable fee limited to the cost of supplies, labor, and postage.  Furthermore, if patients wish to amend their PHI, they have the right to do so (although there are several limited circumstances where this request may be refused). 
5.    More rigorous HIPAA enforcement
Under the Mega Rule, the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for investigating private complaints of non-compliance alleging unauthorized disclosures due to willful neglect.  As required by the HITECH Act, these investigations and reviews may result in increased and tiered civil money penalties.  The penalties take into account whether Covered Entities or Business Associates should have known of the violation, if the violation was due to willful neglect or reasonable cause, whether the violation was corrected within 30 days, and whether the Covered Entity or Business Associate mitigated the harm.
6.    Option for patients to opt out of receiving fundraising and marketing communications  
When Covered Entities communicate with patients regarding fundraising, they must notify the patient clearly of the patient’s option to opt out of receiving such communications.  In addition, Covered Entities cannot sell patient information for fundraising and marketing purposes without authorization.  When seeking such authorization, the patient must be made aware that the provider will receive remuneration for disclosing PHI.  However, Covered Entities may continue to receive financial remuneration to provide refill reminders, or to send out other communications about a drug currently used by the patient as long as the remuneration is related to the costs of making the communication.

What should Covered Entities and Business Associates do before September 23?

Covered Entities and Business Associate should use the several days left before the compliance deadline to update policies and procedures, train staff accordingly, and become familiar with the Mega Rule in order to ensure compliance and avoid lofty penalties.  For further assistance, please contact one of the health law practice area attorneys at Pierce & Mandell, P.C.

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