A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Telemedicine is No Cure for Fraud and Abuse

By Vrushab Gowda

The exponential growth of telehealth in recent years has revolutionized the delivery, access, and cost of care. Unfortunately, it is not immune to the fraud and abuse that divert nearly $70 billion from the health care system annually.

A rise in suspect practices has been accompanied by a concomitant escalation of Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement, sending a clear signal to would-be fraudulent actors.

The ongoing Operation Rubber Stamp is one such enforcement thrust. A joint initiative of the of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), it targeted an extensive network of telemedicine fraud totaling over $4.5 billion in false claims and yielding thirty guilty pleas to date.

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Person typing on computer.

Telehealth Policy Brought to the Fore in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Vrushab Gowda

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of telehealth as both a tool of necessity (e.g., minimizing infection risk, conserving thinly stretched healthcare resources, reducing cost) as well as of innovation.

Telehealth services have surged in recent months; in April alone, they constituted over 40 percent of primary care visits nationwide and over 73 percent of those in Boston. “Increasing Access to Care: Telehealth during COVID-19,” a recent publication in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, dissects the issues that have accompanied the growth of telehealth and identifies further areas of potential reform.

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Suboxone.

Obstacles and Advances to Accessing Medication for Opioid Use Disorder

By Marissa Schwartz

Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), sometimes referred to as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), is a life-saving, evidence-based treatment method considered the gold standard for addressing opioid use disorders. Unfortunately, however, there are a number of barriers — both legal and cultural — that prevent some patients from accessing the treatment they need.

MOUD combines the use of prescription medications (like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone) with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide comprehensive treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Due to stigma toward MOUD from patients and providers, as well as an overall lack of providers certified to dispense MOUD, there are currently more prescribing rules in the U.S. for the drugs used in MOUD, like buprenorphine, than for opioids. Major legal barriers include provider limits on the number of patients to whom they can offer MOUD, restrictions on which facilities can provide in-patient MOUD treatment, and insurance pre-authorization requirements.

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Health care workers in personal protective equipment attend to a patient.

Value-Based Reimbursement Can Decrease Spending on Medicare During COVID-19

By Sravya Chary

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus’ disproportionate threat to the Medicare patient population has been widely discussed and acknowledged. In light of the public health crisis and an increasing financial burden placed on entities involved in Medicare cost sharing, a value-based Medicare system would not only reduce costs, but also better protect the elderly and chronically ill during the pandemic.

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Young male doctor in telehealth concept

Telehealth amid COVID-19: What Health Care Providers Should Know

By Adriana Krasniansky

COVID-19 stands to be a watershed moment for telehealth adoption within the U.S. healthcare system.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) (part of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage for over 80 health services, to be delivered over video or audio channels. Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it would waive potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency. Both measures are designed to enable patients to receive a wider range of health care services remotely, reducing clinical congestion and limiting transmission of the virus. 

In the midst of this emergency situation, health care providers can take measures to consider the ethical and legal aspects of tele-practice as they get started. This article is a short primer to help medical professionals understand telehealth in this moment, navigate regulations and technology practice standards, and choose technologies to support quality patient care. Read More

a crowd of people shuffling through a sidewalk

Lost in the Shuffle: The Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrants in Need

The recommendations for healthy people who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the illness caused by the corona virus called SARS-Co-V2, is to stay at home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and control fever and body-aches with a non-steroidal medication. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly or those with more serious symptoms, an evaluation by a healthcare provider is warranted. This is a reasonable recommendation given that for most healthy people, the symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. There is a population however, that regardless of the severity of their illness, may stay at home and not seek medical care, even when things are serious. Fear of arrest and deportation is a real issue for undocumented immigrants and calling an ambulance or going to a hospital can put them at risk for these actions. The result is that some very sick people may not seek appropriate medical care. In addition, they may be taken care of by people that don’t have the appropriate personal protection, putting even more people at risk.

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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, USA - JUNE 8, 2019: First ever Medicare for All rally led by Bernie Sanders held in The Loop of Chicago. Crowd holds up a sign that says "Medicare for All Saves Lives".

Medicare for the Poor

By David Orentlicher

While Medicare-for-All has proved controversial, every Democratic presidential candidate should embrace one of its key elements—folding the Medicaid program into the Medicare program. That would be much better for patients, doctors, and hospitals. It also would be much better for public school children.

Medicare would be a much better program for patients, doctors, and hospitals in several ways. Lower-income families suffer because Medicaid is a federal-state partnership, and some states have stingier Medicaid programs than do other states. In particular, Florida, Texas, and twelve other states have not signed up for the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, leaving more than two million lower-income Americans uninsured. Under our current Medicaid system, access to health care for the indigent depends where they live. Folding Medicaid into Medicare would give the poor access to health care in every state.

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A calculator, a stethoscope, and a stack of money rest on a table.

Why Our Health Care Is Incomplete: Review of “Exposed” (Part I)

By: Daniel Aaron

Just last month, Professor Christopher T. Robertson, at the University of Arizona College of Law, released his new book about health care, entitled Exposed: Why Our Health Insurance Is Incomplete and What Can Be Done About It. This book review will offer an analytical discussion of “cost exposure,” the main subject of his book.

What is cost exposure in health care?

Cost exposure is payments people make related to their medical care. There are many ways patients pay – here are a few common ones.

  • Deductible – Patient is responsible for the first, say, $5,000 of their medical care; after this point, the health insurance kicks in. Resets each year.
  • Copay – Patient pays a specific amount, say $25, when having an episode of care.
  • Coinsurance – Patient pays a specified percentage, say 20%, of care.

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close up of an open book

Monthly Round-Up of What to Read on Pharma Law and Policy

By Ameet Sarpatwari, Charlie Lee, Frazer Tessema, and Aaron S. Kesselheim

Each month, members of the Program On Regulation, Therapeutics, And Law (PORTAL) review the peer-reviewed medical literature to identify interesting empirical studies, policy analyses, and editorials on health law and policy issues relevant to current or potential future work in the Division.

Below are the abstracts/summaries for papers identified from the month of December. The selections feature topics ranging from potential Medicare savings on inhaler prescriptions through use of negotiated prices and a defined formulary, to evaluation of the REMS for extended-release/long-acting opioids, to the costs of medication non-adherence in adults with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in the US. A full posting of abstracts/summaries of these articles may be found on our website. Read More

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Naughty or Nice 2019? Guests, Zack Buck, John Cogan, and Jennifer Oliva

Ho-ho-ho! It’s the return of “Who’s Been Naughty or Nice?,” TWIHL’s infamous Holiday show. This year’s festive appreciation of those who work in the health care law and policy workshop features the seasonal vocalizations of Zack Buck, John Cogan, and Jennifer Oliva. Nominees for both naughty and nice include a wealth of administration players and policies, plenty of good and bad Medicaid news, drug pricing, and a whole lot more to fill our stockings and remind us that the consumption of prodigious amounts of egg nog is increasingly a quid pro quo for health law and policy work.

The Week in Health Law Podcast from Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in health law and policy. Subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Google Play, listen at Stitcher Radio, SpotifyTunein or Podbean.

Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find me on Twitter @nicolasterry or @WeekInHealthLaw.