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NYC Announces Vaccine Mandate for All Employers Effective December 27, 2021

On December 6, 2021, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all New York City employers, regardless of size, will be required to impose COVID-19 vaccination mandates on all employees (subject to legally protected exemptions) by December 27, 2021.

This new vaccine requirement is in addition to the City’s existing COVID-19 vaccination mandate for establishments providing indoor dining, gyms, theaters and other entertainment services. Mayor de Blasio cited the combination of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant and holiday gatherings as the motivation for this mandate.

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UPDATE: CMS Issues COVID-19 Vaccination Interim Final Rule for Healthcare Facilities

On November 16, 2021, 12 states—Montana, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia—filed a complaint in the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana requesting that the Interim Final Rule with comment period (IFR) that put in place the vaccination mandate applicable to certain covered healthcare facilities and staff be declared arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and in excess of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) statutory authority. CMS published an IFR on November 5, 2021, that implements the Biden administration’s previously announced vaccine mandate for healthcare facilities. The expansive IFR applies to more than a dozen types of healthcare providers and suppliers (facilities), affects more than 10 million healthcare staff and carries an anticipated potential price tag in excess of $1.3 billion dollars for the first year of implementation.

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CMS Will Finalize Heightened Penalties, Additional Requirements Under Hospital Price Transparency Rule

On November 2, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will implement increased penalties for hospitals that do not comply with the Hospital Price Transparency Rule, effective January 1, 2022. CMS will also finalize several additional requirements for hospitals, including a requirement that hospitals ensure standard charge information is accessible to automated searches and direct downloads.

CMS will implement a sliding penalty scale based on the hospital’s number of beds. Hospitals with 30 or fewer beds will face a maximum daily penalty of $300, while hospitals with between 31 and 550 beds will face a maximum daily penalty of $10 per bed. Hospitals with more than 550 beds will face a maximum daily penalty of $5,500.

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Major Health Systems, Hospital-at-Home Company Launch Advocacy Effort

A coalition launched by several major health systems and a hospital-at-home company aims to continue delivering hospital-level-at-home care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. McDermott+Consulting Vice President Mara McDermott said providers have demonstrated that the model is “of high value to patients.”

“At the end of the pandemic, without some sort of extension, the new model is at risk of going away or dramatically shrinking,” McDermott said. “Action by the federal government will ensure that this important and innovative source of care can continue.”

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Hospitals Push Back Against HHS Slashing of Reimbursement Rates

Hospitals are pushing back after the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to participating hospitals under the 340B drug discount program.

According to this article published in The Well News, 340B program supporters have filed a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that HHS failed to collect sufficient data and that the department overstepped its authority with the cuts. McDermott Partner Emily Jane Cook said that the cuts will mean rural hospitals are “deprived of an important source of support for the services that they provide to their communities.”

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The “New” Digital Healthcare Delivery System

Although digital health solutions have long been a key area of strategic growth for the healthcare industry, the COVID-19 crisis accelerated what it means to deliver safe and effective digitally-based care. As the United States shifts focus from short-term crisis response to longer-term solutions, what does a digitally-driven healthcare industry look like, and how can healthcare entities maintain the highest standards of care and meet patient expectations while constructively disrupting out-of-date practice patterns? During a recent virtual conversation, McDermott Partners Michael W. Ryan and Jennifer S. Geetter addressed these questions and more.

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Whistleblowers, Fears of Losing Funds Key to Enforcing US Vaccine Rules

Even though the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit temporarily blocked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) COVID-19 vaccination rule for employers (though not for the healthcare sector), businesses should continue preparing for important OSHA deadlines.

According to this Reuters article, workplace whistleblowers and fears of disappearing federal funds will likely help with vaccination mandates within businesses, hospitals and nursing homes. However, OSHA is unlikely to demand proof from every healthcare provider of vaccination and testing protocols. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also typically does not survey accredited healthcare providers unless there is a complaint or a need for recertification, McDermott Partner Sandra DiVarco noted.

“On a stakeholder call, CMS reiterated their desire to work with providers to come into compliance and not to sort of send SWAT teams to go out and look for problems,” DiVarco said.

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Businesses Left in Limbo on COVID-19 Mandate

Following a US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision to temporarily block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) new vaccine requirement rule, many employers have found themselves in a state of confusion. According to this article published in The Hill, businesses could face steep penalties if they willfully violate the rule, such as fines of more than $130,000. But even though the rule is temporarily blocked, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro said businesses should continue preparing for important OSHA deadlines.

“I think it’s prudent for employers to proceed with planning assuming that the OSHA rule, at least in some form or fashion, will be implemented pending final resolution of the various court cases,” Strowhiro said.

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Artificial Intelligence Myth Versus Reality: Where Do Healthcare Experts Think We Stand?

As the healthcare industry evaluates how to pay for artificial intelligence (AI) solutions, industry experts say data and real-world evidence are essential for reaching any payment decisions. In this Forbes article, McDermott Partners Dale C. Van Demark and Jiayan Chen provide insight into some of the regulatory challenges AI presents.

“For AI to be paid for, you need data that shows your product is making a difference,” Chen notes. “To do that, you need massive quantities of data to develop the tool or algorithm, but you also have to show that it works in a real-world setting.”

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Vaccine Exemption Requests Put Legal Departments in Tricky Spot

As more employers mandate vaccines for their workforces, in-house legal departments are encountering a host of challenges, including understanding religious accommodations and minimizing litigation exposure. According to this article published in Law.com, employers should have the ability to navigate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII-related accommodation requests. However, McDermott Partner Carole Spink said many employers have never encountered the current breadth of religious exemption requests from their workforces.

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