As previously reported on our Physician Law Blog (see our post here), the Pennsylvania Department of Health issued draft “temporary” regulations regarding physician registration and certification of medical marijuana on April 11, 2017.   Following a brief comment period, the Department finalized its “temporary” regulations in the June 3, 2017 issue of the PA Bulletin.  A copy of the final regulations can be viewed here.

Medical marijuana in jar lying on prescription form
Copyright: megaflopp / 123RF Stock Photo

The regulations are labeled “temporary” because they were adopted to implement PA’s new Medical Marijuana Program.  As a result, they will expire in two years, unless made permanent by the Department.  However, for the first year of the Program, these regulations will govern the registration of any physician who wishes to certify the use of medical marijuana for his or her patients.  The Department has confirmed in a related press release that the Medical Marijuana Program continues to be on schedule for full implementation in early 2018.

The final physician regulations make a few notable changes to the draft regulations, but also leave physicians with some lingering questions regarding the registration process, advertising their certification services, and charging fees for re-certifying the use of medical marijuana for existing patients.

Notable Changes

1.    The publicly available Practitioner Registry maintained by the Department will include only the practitioner’s name, business address and medical credentials (as opposed to the practitioner’s phone number and/or email address).  [See 28 Pa. Code 1181.25].  As a result, a prospective patient seeking a physician on the Practitioner Registry will need to take the extra step to conduct a web search on the physician in order to locate the physician’s contact information.  While this may encourage physicians registered to certify the use of medical marijuana to ensure that their practice websites clearly advertise their services, physicians should note that the Medical Marijuana Act and these regulations prohibit a physician registered to certify the use of medical marijuana from advertising the physician’s marijuana certification services.  It is unclear to what extent this prohibition will permit practice websites to note that one or more of the practice’s physicians are registered to certify the use of medical marijuana.

2.    A physician’s certification for the patient’s use of medical marijuana will now be required to include a statement as to the length of time (which cannot exceed 1 year) for which the practitioner believes the use of medical marijuana by the patient would be therapeutic and palliative.  [See 28 Pa. Code 1181.27(a)(6)].  The certification will also be required to include the recommendations, requirements or limitations as to the form or dosage of medical marijuana appropriate for the patient or a recommendation that the patient speak only with a medical professional employed by, and working at, the dispensary regarding the appropriate form and dosage of medical marijuana.  [See 28 Pa. Code 1181.27(a)(7)].

3.    Under the final regulations, physicians may not receive or provide medical marijuana product samples, and may not serve as a designated caregiver for a patient for whom the physician has issued a certification for medical marijuana. [See 28 Pa. Code 1181.31].

4.    Under the Act, physicians will be required to complete a 4-hour training course on various aspects of the use of medical marijuana in the treatment of serious medical conditions, in order to qualify for registration.  The Department confirmed in these final regulations that it will maintain on its website a list of approved training providers offering the 4-hour course for reference by physicians seeking registration.  [See 28 Pa. Code 1181.32].

Remaining Questions

As first raised in our prior blog post on the Department’s draft temporary physician regulations, the Act and the draft regulations appeared to leave two key questions unanswered.  First, will the physician registration process be electronic or require paper application?  And second, can a physician accept payment from existing patients for re-certifying the use of medical marijuana for those patients?

The Department failed to answer those questions in the final physician regulations. Regarding the former, we will eventually find out how the Department will operate the registration process when it announces the opening of physician registration.  However, regarding the latter, which arises out of the unclear drafting of the Act and these regulations, an answer may require further inquiry with the Department.

I also note that, as raised above, it is unclear whether registered physicians will be able to list on their websites that they are registered to certify the use of medical marijuana.

Stay tuned to the Fox Rothschild Physician Law Blog for updates on physician registration for certification of the use of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania.

Should you have any questions regarding the registration process or what obligations a registered physician will have under the Act, please contact an experienced healthcare lawyer.

Earlier this month, a New York man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly operating a $26 million scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid. The defendant allegedly established 6 medical clinics in Brooklyn that paid elderly people to pose as patients and billed Medicare and Medicaid for unnecessary and/or non-existent medical care and equipment. The defendant, who was not a doctor, operated the six clinics between 2007 and 2013, but because New York’s corporate practice of medicine doctrine requires that such clinics be owned and operated by licensed healthcare professionals, he found three physicians to serve as nominal clinic owners. The allegations included that the physicians would periodically come to the clinic to sign medical charts for patients who they never treated, and for others, prescribe unnecessary medications, procedures and supplies. The clinics allegedly incentivized elderly patients to seek “treatment” at the clinics through cash kickbacks.

In addition to his prison term, the defendant was ordered to pay $16,686,811 in forfeiture and a restitution order of $18,683,691. Although this was an extreme “billing mill” case, the severity of sentencing highlights the importance of billing compliance obligations. Also, since New York law strictly prohibits unlicensed individuals, such as the defendant, from owning medical clinics and/or influencing medical decision making, clinics should ensure that such functions are exclusively reserved to its licensed healthcare providers. The corporate practice of medicine doctrine varies from state to state, so we recommend that you contact a knowledgeable and experienced healthcare attorney in your state if you have any questions regarding these requirements.

USA Today, New York Times, BNA, and several other news outlets have been reporting over the last few weeks about non-competition agreements and non-compete laws especially related to low-wage workers.  There have been interesting changes and proposed changes to state laws that may affect several industries including healthcare.

In a recent article on Law360, titled “Noncompete Agreements Under Siege At The State Level,” the authors highlighted some developments in non-compete law.  They posit that many areas of employment and labor law have seen changes, but the law of noncompetition agreements has been relatively static.  Until recently, most changes came from case law in this area of law; however, more recently we are seeing that many state legislatures are taking up the issue.

Some states like Massachusetts, Oregon and Missouri are offering laws which include broad prohibitions on the enforcement of noncompetition agreements.  However these proposals have not made much legislative progress according to the authors.

Other states have offered legislation that has health care industry-specific prohibitions.  For example, the authors note that last year Rhode Island enacted legislation that effectively renders physician noncompetition agreements void and unenforceable, while Connecticut imposed new limits as to when noncompetition agreements can be enforced.

According to the authors, in 2017 the trend is continuing.  West Virginia enacted a statute regarding physician noncompetition agreements, which limits the ability to enforce such provisions.  The authors state:

Measures have also been introduced recently in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon (home care workers), New Mexico (certified nurse practitioners and midwives), and Connecticut (homemakers, companions and home health aides) that target noncompete enforcement against physicians and others in the health and medical profession. (emphasis added)

Low-wage employee non-compete clauses have also come under scrutiny.  The authors note that this year several states have or are currently considering income-based restrictions, including Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland (did not pass), and Washington.

With the landscape of this very important issue changing, individual healthcare providers, their employers, and anyone else who uses, or is subject to, non-compete provisions will need to keep on top of developments to their state’s specific laws.  As the laws change, it will be more important than ever to have non-compete provisions and agreements reviewed or re-reviewed to ensure you understand the effect of such changes.

We invite you to read Part 1 and Part 2 in a series of posts by Fox partner Dori K. Stibolt, regarding the new trend in ADA Title III litigation involving web access for the visually impaired.

Many of these cases have focused on travel, hospitality and financial services companies. However, there has been a micro trend of these web site accessibility cases naming dentists and physicians.

Beginning April 1, 2017, the regulations regarding opiate prescribing will be changing.  A Delaware healthcare practitioner will only be able to prescribe initial opioid prescriptions for acute pain episodes for up to seven (7) days for adult patients, and are required to follow new rules for chronic pain patients and patients that require more opioid medications for their acute pain episode.  The new regulations do have exemptions for hospice care patients, active cancer treatment patients, and terminally ill/palliative care patients.  These requirements and more details about the Delaware regulation are provided below.

New Jersey

On February 15, 2017, New Jersey’s Governor Christie signed into law legislation that limits initial opioid medications to five (5) day supplies, which is one of the most stringent in the country.  The limit would not apply to end of life care, cancer, and chronic pain patients.  The new law also includes a requirement that prescribers take continuing education that includes issues concerning prescription opioid drugs. The law goes into effect May 16, 2017.  It is likely that new regulations are pending to address these changes and we will provide more information at that time.

Delaware Acute Pain Episode Opioid Treatment Requirements

If a healthcare practitioner, based on their professional medical judgment, wishes to prescribe an adult more than a seven-day supply in an initial encounter or subsequent encounter, the practitioner must: (1) document the issue requiring a greater quantity in patient’s medical record; (2) “query the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PMP) to obtain a prescription history”; (3) “indicate that a non-opioid alternative was not available”; (4) obtain Informed Consent consistent with the regulation; (5) “conduct a physical examination, which must include a documented discussion of elicit relevant history, explain risks and benefits of opioid analgesics and possible alternatives, other treatments tried or considered and whether opioid analgesics are contra-indicated”; (6) “schedule/undertake periodic follow-up visits and evaluations to monitor progress toward goals in a treatment plan, whether there is an available alternative to continue opioid use, and whether to refer the patient for a pain management or substance abuse consultation”; and (7) at the discretion of the practitioner, administer a fluid drug screen.

Delaware Chronic Long-Term Opioid Treatment Requirements

For chronic long-term treatment with an opioid, a healthcare practitioner must follow the guidelines listed above as well as:

(1) query the PMP at least every six months or more frequently if clinically indicated (including, when a patient is on a benzodiazepine, the patient is potentially at risk for substance abuse or misuse, or when the patient demonstrates such things as loss of prescriptions, requests for early prescriptions or similar behavior); (2) administer a fluid drug screen at least every six months; and (3) obtain a signed Treatment Agreement containing the elements in the regulation.

Delaware Opioid Treatment for Minors

For minors, healthcare practitioners cannot prescribe opioid analgesics for more than a seven-day supply at any time, and must discuss with the parent or guardian the risks associated with the use and the reason for use of the medication.

For more information on Delaware’s new changes please see the following documents on Delaware’s Controlled Substance Advisory Committee’s website Delaware Prescription Opioid Guidelines for Health Care Providers and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act Regulations.

Advancements in healthcare technology continue at an explosive pace and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of mobile healthcare applications. Technology giants such as Apple and Garmin are diving into the wearable healthcare device arena and healthcare app companies are rapidly developing technology to enable devices to transmit healthcare information directly to physicians from these devices. Not surprisingly, physicians are also being courted by technology companies to endorse, invest in, Beta test and enter into licensing agreements to utilize these technologies.

As evidenced, however, by three recent settlements between the New York State Attorney General and several healthcare app companies, the marriage between healthcare and technology is fraught with potential legal pitfalls. According to the NY Attorney General’s press release, the settlement involved the makers of Cardiio, Runtastic, My Baby’s Beat, three popular healthcare applications that, among other things, monitor user heart rates. In addition to requiring the companies to pay civil settlements, the settlement agreements require the companies to modify certain of their marketing claims which the Attorney General alleged were misleading, and to change their privacy practices regarding the use and disclosure of user information. In light of these settlements, physicians considering getting involved with app makers or other healthcare technology ventures should carefully vet those arrangements and the applications themselves for compliance with healthcare laws including, without limitation, federal and state kickback prohibitions and privacy and security considerations.

We recently issued a Health Law Alert on the Medicare Quality Payment Program, focusing specifically on what physicians and their medical practices need to know to be in compliance with the Program in 2017.  The Alert may be accessed at this link: Fox Rothschild Health Law Alert – Medicare Quality Payment Program

You may also view some of our recent posts on the Physician Law Blog for more information on the Medicare Quality Payment Program.  In short, compliance with the Program in 2017 can earn you and your practice anywhere from a 0%-4% increase in your reimbursements under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule in 2019.  However, failure to meet at least the minimum level of compliance this year will result in a negative adjustment of 4% to your Medicare reimbursements in 2019.

Stay tuned to Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog for updates on the Medicare Quality Payment Program in 2017 and beyond.

The Medicare incentive programs with which you and your medical practice are familiar will soon be no more.  As of January 1, 2017, these programs (including the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Meaningful Use Incentive Program, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), and the Physician Value-Based Modifier Program) will morph into the new Medicare Quality Payment Program (QPP).   The QPP will also include a fourth category of incentives entitled “Clinical Practice Improvement Activities”, which we discuss in more detail below.

The purpose of the QPP is to create one central program that will govern Medicare Part B payments to physicians, while incentivizing physicians to increase quality of care and decrease inefficiencies in the cost of care for Medicare patients.  Participation in the QPP will be mandatory beginning January 1, 2017.  The QPP will either reward or penalize physicians and their practices by adjusting their reimbursement rates under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule two (2) years after the reporting year.  Therefore, physicians/practices will have their reimbursement rates adjusted in 2019 based on their reporting data for the year 2017.

As we noted in our first blog post in the Series, accessible here, physicians will have the option to choose between two payment tracks under the QPP:  (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS); and (2) an Advanced Alternative Payment Model (Advanced APM).  This blog post will discuss the basics of the MIPS and how to qualify for the MIPS in 2017, while our next post will touch on the basics of participation in Advanced APMs.

Basics of the MIPS

Each physician or group practice (you may report individually or as a group) participating in the MIPS in 2017 will earn a “composite performance score” based on the physician/group’s scores within the following four (4) categories:

  1. Quality of Care – 60%
    • Explanation: Scored based on the reporting of “quality measures”, which will be published annually by CMS.  Physicians will be able to choose which quality measures they will report each year.
    • Replaces: PQRS and quality component of the Value-Based Modifier.
  2. Advancing Care Information – 25%
    • Explanation: Scored based on the reporting of EHR use-related measures with which you are familiar from the current EHR Meaningful Use Incentive Program.  However, unlike the existing program, the QPP measures will not have “all-or-nothing” targets.
    • Replaces: EHR Meaningful Use Program.
  3. Clinical Practice Improvement Activities – 15%
    • Explanation: Scored based on attestation by the physician/group that the physician/group has performed certain care coordination, beneficiary engagement, population management and patient safety activities.
    • Replaces:   New Program.
  4. Resource Use – 0%
    • Explanation: Scored based on per capita patient costs and episode-based measures.  CMS collects and analyzes the data from your claims submissions.  No additional reporting will be required.
    • Replaces: Cost component of the Value-Based Modifier.

How to Qualify for 2017

CMS has eased the reporting requirements for the first year of the QPP.  No physician/group will be required to begin collecting data in accordance with the QPP’s requirements on January 1, 2017 (but may elect to do so).  To receive a neutral or positive payment adjustment, physicians/groups will need to report data for only a 90-day performance period during the year.  There are also minimum threshold reporting requirements to avoid a negative payment adjustment and full participation requirements which are more likely to result in a guaranteed positive adjustment.  The table below organizes the requirements in an easy-to-read format:

MIPS Measures Chart

Final Thoughts on Qualifying for the MIPS in 2017

  • Get involved sooner rather than later. CMS has kept reporting requirements minimal in 2017 in order to encourage clinicians to participate in the QPP.  Take advantage of that opportunity to ensure your practice has the right software to report the quality and EHR use-related measures.  Since adjustments will be made based on threshold scores, it may be easier in 2017 to earn a positive adjustment, and even an exceptional bonus, than in later years.
  • Ensure that your current EHR technology meets the requirements for the QPP in 2017, including reporting capabilities for quality measures and EHR use-related measures. The easiest way to do this is to contact your EHR vendor.
  • CMS has given providers plenty of time to report 2017 data. The deadline for reporting 2017 data is March 31, 2018.

As always, if you have questions specific to your practice, please contact a knowledgeable and experienced attorney.

You may have heard that a transformation of Medicare’s physician payment program is in the works.  However, you may not know that the structure of the new program, called the “Quality Payment Program”, has been finalized and will begin its first reporting year on January 1, 2017.  Now is the time for you and your practice to get up to speed on the new Quality Payment Program.  This post is the first in a new Blog Series that we will be publishing on Fox Rothschild’s Physician Law Blog to help you and your practice prepare for Medicare’s Quality Payment Program.

In October, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Final Rule setting forth the structure of the Quality Payment Program and the parameters for its first year of operation.  The purpose of the Quality Payment Program is to create one central program that will govern Medicare Part B payments to physicians, while incentivizing physicians to increase quality of care and decrease inefficiencies in the cost of care for Medicare patients.  The Quality Payment Program will consolidate the existing Medicare incentive programs (which include the Electronic Health Records (EHR) Meaningful Use Incentive Program, the Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS), and the Physician Value-Based Modifier Program), along with a new program incentivizing clinical improvement activities, into a single payment program that will either reward or penalize physicians by adjusting their reimbursement rates under the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.

In each reporting year under the Program, physicians will be required to qualify for one of two (2) payment tracks:  (1) the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS); or (2) the Advanced Alternate Payment Model (Advanced APM) model.  The MIPS is the default payment track, and will be the track used by most physicians over the next five years.  Qualification for the Advanced APM model requires participation in a CMS-approved Advanced APM.  The long-term goal of CMS is for most physicians and practices to participate in Advanced APMs.

While calendar year 2017 will be the first reporting year under the Quality Payment Program, payment adjustments for physician performance in 2017 will not be made until the 2019 calendar year.  This two-year gap between reporting and payment adjustment has been carried over from the existing incentive programs and may eventually be shortened.  However, for now, the gap will allow a smoother transition from Medicare existing incentive programs, which have collected data over the last two years for incentive payments in 2017 and 2018, respectively.  To be clear, incentive payments based on data reported under existing incentive programs in 2015 and 2016 will still be made.

The good news is that CMS has eased the reporting requirements for the first year of the Program.  For example, no physician will be required to begin collecting data in accordance with the Program’s requirements on January 1, 2017.  To receive a neutral or positive adjustment to reimbursements in 2019, physicians will need to report data and perform certain practice activities for a 90-day performance period during the year.

Stay tuned to the Physician Law Blog for upcoming posts on what you and your practice need to know about the Quality Payment Program (QPP).  The next posts in the QPP Blog Series will be:

  1. Basics of the MIPS and How to Qualify in 2017
  2. Basics of Advanced APMs and How to Qualify in 2017
  3. Details of the MIPS Scoring System

In the interim, if you would like to learn more about the QPP, we encourage you to check out the excellent website CMS has developed on the QPP, which can be found at this link:  https://qpp.cms.gov

As always, if you have questions regarding the applicability of the QPP to you and your practice, we advise you to consult with a knowledgeable attorney.

The Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) of the Department of Health and Human Services, generally, would have concerns about a potential or existing referral source receiving free goods or services, since these free goods and services could be used to provide unlawful payments for the referral of Federal health care program business.  However, under Advisory Opinion 16-09, the OIG decided not to pursue sanctions against a company that provides computerized point-of-care storage and dispensing systems for vaccines (the “Dispensing System”) to physicians free of charge due to the specific circumstances in this arrangement.

The Arrangement:  A manufacturer of a refrigerated vaccine storage and dispensing system (the “Dispensing System”) would retain title to their Dispensing System and the internal data, but would provide the system free of charge to certain physicians.  The manufacturer would enter into two types of agreements:

1)  Sole-Source Vaccine Agreement – The Dispensing System manufacturer would enter into an agreement with manufacturers who are the sole suppliers of a vaccine (“Sole-Source Vaccine”).  The Sole-Source Vaccine manufacturer would pay the Dispensing System manufacturer a fee for each unit of vaccine that a participating physician dispenses out of the Dispensing System (the “Dispense Fee”).

2) Physician Agreement – Dispensing System manufacturer would enter into agreements with only those Physicians who had not previously stocked adult vaccines previously, or only stocked vaccines sporadically or in low volumes.  The Dispensing System would be free of charge to physicians, provided the physician agrees to stock at least one Sole-Source Vaccine that has an Agreement with the Sole-Source Vaccine manufacturer.  The physician would be responsible for the internet connectivity and utilities for the system.  The physician could use the Dispensing System to store other vaccines.  However, the physician may only store Sole-Source Vaccines if the vaccine manufacturer has an agreement with the Dispensing System manufacturer.

OIG’s Analysis: Due to the following “unique factors” the OIG concluded that the following arrangement would be permissible.

  • No Dispense Fee is shared with the physicians.
  • The Dispense Fee is paid directly to the Dispensing System manufacturer, who does not generate Federal healthcare program business.
  • The risk of unfair competition is reduced because (1) only Sole-Source Vaccine manufacturers can enter into an agreement with the Dispensing System manufacturer; (2) More than one Sole-Source Vaccine manufacturer can have their vaccines in any machine and each would be paying the Dispense Fee; and (4) Since a physician needs the Sole-Source Vaccine for patient, the physician has inherently chosen the manufacturer, since they cannot get the vaccine from anywhere else.
  • Physicians may store any non-sole-source vaccines in the Dispensing System that they wish.
  • The manufacturer will not advertise, market or promote any specific vaccine.
  • Adult vaccines are administered in limited manner and serve to prevent diseases, which if not prevented could lead to costlier services to federal payors.
  • The Arrangement helps achieve the CDC’s goal to improve adult vaccination rates which is a benefit from a public policy perspective.
  • The Dispensing System helps mitigate one of the key challenges – proper vaccine storage and management

While it appears the opinion is likely limited to the discrete issue of vaccine storage, it does demonstate that the OIG may be willing to entertain proposals that align with public health concerns or other government agency goals, even in situations where there could be a risk of fraud or abuse to federal payor programs.

If your practice is interested in guidance regarding free vaccine dispensing systems or similar arrangements, be sure to consult experienced counsel.