stethoscope, pills, ampules, and notepad with "claim denied" written on it.

Preserving Meaningful External Review Despite Insurers’ Rulification of Medical Necessity

By Daniel Schwarcz and Amy B. Monahan

Increasingly, health insurers are crafting their coverage terms in ways that undermine a vital consumer protection created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA): the right to appeal health plan claim denials that are based on medical judgments to an independent, external reviewer. The ACA extended this right to all health plans to protect consumers against the risk of unreasonable coverage determinations — a risk that is all too familiar given insurers’ financial incentives to deny claims.

Yet, as revealed by our new article, Rules of Medical Necessity, this essential consumer protection is becoming increasingly illusory as health insurers shift from broad standards to concrete rules for defining when care is medically necessary. For that reason, this post proposes that the Biden/Harris administration should promulgate rules allowing external reviewers to set aside insurers’ rules of medical necessity even when they are contained in insurance policies or formal health plan documents. Instead, federal regulations should make clear that the ACA requires external reviewers to apply traditional, standard-based, definitions of medical necessity when reviewing denials of coverage that are premised on medical judgments.

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U.S. Capitol Building at Night

A Legislative Override Could Save the ACA (and Fix Other Misapplications of Health Laws)

By John Aloysius Cogan, Jr.

The Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration need not wait for the Supreme Court to determine the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in California v. Texas; they can take charge of the case today by enacting and signing into law overriding legislation. 

Since the threat to the ACA is based on the interpretation of a federal statute — the ACA’s “inseverability clause” — Congress is within its rights to take charge of the case. Why? Because courts are not the final word on the meaning of a statute, Congress is.

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Syringe being filled from a vial. Vaccine concept illustration.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver: The Wrong Tool for the Right Goal

By Ana Santos Rutschman and Julia Barnes-Weise

As the toll of COVID-19 continues to increase in many countries in the Global South, there has been a renewed push to address the problem of vaccine scarcity through a waiver of patent rights. Calls for waivers have been recurring throughout the pandemic, from formal proposals introduced in 2020 by some of the larger developing economies (India and South Africa), to op-eds in mainstream media, and editorials in scientific publications, such as Nature. This push gained momentum in early May 2021, just before the meeting of the World Trade Organization’s General Council.

Waiver proposals have attracted the support of prominent names in public health. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, endorsed patent waivers as a tool to address the current vaccine scarcity problem in an article titled Waive Covid Vaccine Patents to Put World on “War Footing.” Others — including, most recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci — have been critical of waiver proposals.

In this piece, we explain the mechanics of patent waivers and argue that waivers alone are the wrong policy tool in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. We agree with supporters of the waivers in their ultimate goal — that of scaling up the manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, and then distributing them according to more equitable models than the ones adopted thus far. However, we doubt that the particular types of goods at stake here can be easily replicated and produced in substantially larger quantities simply through a waiver of intellectual property rights.

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Emergency department entrance.

Be a Transformational President, Mr. Biden: Launch a Commission to Create an Ethical Health Care System

By William M. Sage

My message for President Joe Biden and his administration is a simple one. Invite physicians to create an ethical health care system. Demand that physicians take seriously that mission and work closely with other health professions and the public, sharing their power and authority.  

Physicians’ silence in the face of massive health injustice, inefficiency, and waste must be called out by leaders of the medical profession for what it is: complicity. Commitment to an ethically indefensible status quo has made much-needed reform proposals seem morally threatening, rather than representing opportunities for ethical introspection and improvement. All those who profit from the current system — a large group, given $4,000,000,000,000 of annual U.S. health care spending — use physician complacency to justify their own resistance to change.

The U.S. health care system will not change without permission from health professionals, especially America’s physicians. Permission must be built on principle, and it should take the form of re-envisioning and reaffirming medical ethics. The need to do so has been evident for over two decades, but COVID-19 has increased its urgency.

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President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Symposium Introduction: Recommendations for a Biden/Harris Health Policy Agenda

By Erin C. Fuse Brown

This digital symposium explores recommendations for the Biden/Harris administration’s health policy agenda. We asked leading health law scholars to describe one health policy action the administration should pursue, beyond the pandemic response. Their recommendations make up this symposium. The responses range from concrete policy changes to broad reform ideas and can be grouped into three categories, those that (1) Reverse and Restore; (2) Reinforce; (3) Reform.

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Close up of a computer screen displaying code

Top Health Considerations in the European Commission’s ‘Harmonised Rules on Artificial Intelligence’

By Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup

On April 21, 2021, the European Commission released a “first-ever” legal framework on artificial intelligence (AI) in an attempt to address societal risks associated with AI implementation.

The EU has now effectively set a global stage for AI regulation, being the first nation of member states to create a legal framework with specific intent to address or mitigate potentially harmful effects of broad AI implementation.

Within the proposed framework, the Commission touched on a variety of considerations and  “high-risk” AI system scenarios. The Commission defined high-risk AI systems as those that pose significant (material or immaterial) risks to the health and safety or fundamental rights of persons.

This post outlines four key considerations in the proposal with regard to health: 1) prioritizing emergency health care; 2) law enforcement profiling as a social determinant of health; 3) immigrant health risk screening; and 4) AI regulatory sandboxes and a health data space to support AI product commercialization and public health innovation.

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Wade Ackerman.

Meet Wade Ackerman, Petrie-Flom Center Advisory Board Member

The Petrie-Flom Center is excited to welcome Wade Ackerman to our Advisory Board!

Ackerman is a partner in Covington’s FDA Regulatory group, where he advises companies and trade associations on complex Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues. He also co-leads Covington’s multidisciplinary Digital Health Initiative, which advises clients who are using information technology and data to innovate and improve health.

To learn more about the expertise that Ackerman will bring to the Advisory Board, we asked him a few questions about his background and current areas of practice. The conversation touches on a range of topics, from misconceptions about the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization, to the promise that digital technologies hold in promoting health and wellness. The interview, which has been edited and condensed, follows.

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Emergency room.

Worsening Health Inequity During Pandemic for People Experiencing Homelessness

This piece was adapted from a post that originally ran at On the Flying Bridge on March 28, 2021.

By Michael Greeley

With great fanfare last week, DoorDash announced an initiative to provide same-day home delivery of approved COVID-19 test collection kits.

Much of the business model innovation in health care today is to move as much care as is feasible to the home. But what does that mean for the homeless?

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EU flag and digital health pass.

Are COVID Certificates the Answer to Safe EU Travel During the Pandemic?

By Iris Goldner Lang

On March 17, the European Commission put forward its Proposal for a Regulation on Digital Green Certificates which would facilitate safe EU cross-border movement for purposes of work and tourism.

Considering the length of the EU decision-making process and the technical work that will need to be done, the digital green certificates will not be ready for use until late June or July this year.

The proposed certificates will include three categories of EU citizens and third-country nationals legally staying/residing in the EU: those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, those who have recovered from COVID-19, and those who can produce a negative test result. A non-EU national travelling to the EU – such as a U.S. citizen – could request a digital green certificate from an EU Member State he/she is travelling to, by providing all the relevant information to the national authorities, which would then have to assess whether to issue the certificate.

The proposed EU certificates would also allow the Commission to issue a decision recognizing certificates issued by third countries to EU citizens and their family members, where such certificates meet quality standards and are interoperable with the EU system. Additionally, the Commission intends to make certificates compatible with systems in third countries, such as the U.S,, and is open to global initiatives.

EU Member States’ reactions to this initiative have been diverse. While some Member States – particularly those dependent on tourism – such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark, and Spain – support the initiative, others – like Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – express concerns. In the meantime, both Greece and Cyprus have reached agreements with Israel that should enable their citizens who have been vaccinated to travel between these two EU Member States and Israel without the need to quarantine.

This blog post examines what the European Commission sees as the three main advantages of its Proposal for digital green certificates – the first being that digital green certificates facilitate EU cross-border movement, the second that they preclude more restrictive national measures, and the third that they prevent discrimination.

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Petrie-Flom Center logo.

Petrie-Flom Student Fellowship Now Accepting Applications

What do a MacArthur Genius award winner, several health law professors at top schools, executive directors of leading health law centers, an associate chief counsel of the FDA, and partners and associates at top health care law firms all have in common? The Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship!

The Petrie-Flom Center Student Fellowship is a competitive one-year program designed to support Harvard graduate students interested in pursuing independent scholarly projects related to health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics.

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