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HHS Nondiscrimination Proposal on Gender Procedures, Abortions Meets Resistance

Multiple Republican lawmakers are opposing a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed rule that would expand the Affordable Care Act’s Section 1557 requirement preventing most health plans from discriminating on the basis of sex. According to this SHRM article, the rule applies to health insurers or plans that receive federal funds or that contract with the government. McDermott lawyers previously wrote about this proposed rule, noting that the definition of a covered entity is “similar in many ways to the 2016 Final Rule” but “does not explicitly include employee benefit group health plans as covered entities subject to Section 1557.”

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Federal Judge Says North Carolina Health Plan Violates ACA

A North Carolina health plan’s refusal to cover gender dysphoria treatment violated the Affordable Care Act. According to this Law360 article, the December ruling by US District Judge Loretta C. Biggs is a win for participants and parents of transgender children enrolled in the North Carolina State Health Plan for Teachers and State Employees. McDermott’s Warren Haskel, Dmitriy Tishyevich and Lauren H. Evans represented the health plan’s participants.

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An Overhaul for Medicare’s Pay Transformation Program

The Biden administration recently finalized an overhaul of an initiative known as the Medicare Shared Savings Program that seeks to pay health providers based on patient outcomes instead of the number of services they perform. In this Axios article, McDermott+Consulting’s Mara McDermott offers insight into providers’ Congressional push to extend a 5% pay increase for participants in advanced alternative payment models.

“If the bonus is not continued, it will soften or dampen the momentum toward alternative payment models, because it would create this mentality, or the view, that we’re not serious about that transformation,” McDermott said.

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HHS Issues Proposed Rule Under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act: Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities

On August 4, 2022, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM or proposed rule) to reinterpret section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in a health program or activity, any part of which is receiving federal financial assistance. The proposed rule restores and strengthens certain civil rights protections under federally funded health programs and HHS programs which were limited following the 2020 Trump-era version of the rule, specifically regarding discrimination on the basis of sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and returns certain protections for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). Additionally, the proposed rule bolsters protections against discrimination in healthcare by clarifying that funds received under several federal healthcare programs, including Medicare Part B, are included in the definition of federal financial assistance under the law. As such, under the proposed rule, the list of entities expected to comply with the nondiscrimination measures outlined in Section 1557 of the ACA is significantly expanded, in many ways aligning with the 2016 Obama-era version of the rule. The NPRM also proposes to expand the applicability of the post-Bostock interpretation of “on the basis of sex” to Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) and Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). For now, portions of the 2020 Final Rule not discordant with Bostock continue to apply.

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Safe Harbor Issued for Reporting Healthcare Prices Under Transparency Rules

The US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury recently released Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the implementation of certain reporting provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The FAQs were released to provide clarity on the required drug price disclosures identified in the Transparency in Coverage final rule (the Rule) issued on October 29, 2020. As described in this SHRM article, employers are responsible for making sure that these disclosures are ready and available.

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‘Unprecedented Interest’ in Employer-Covered Abortion Travel

If the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade (as suggested by a leaked draft on May 2), employers who want to provide abortion coverage to employees and their families could encounter serious challenges. In this Bloomberg Law article, McDermott’s Sarah G. Raaii noted that employers that provide travel expenses for abortions might encounter resistance from state laws like a Texas statue that permits citizens to sue abortion providers for abortions performed around six weeks.

“If a state wants to interpret this very broadly—and it seems that some of them have indicated that they do—to really just punish anyone involved even peripherally with providing abortion in the states, employers could potentially be at risk.” Raaii said.

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Agencies Provide Guidance on Impending Transparency in Coverage Rule Implementation

On April 19, 2022, the US Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury (collectively, the Departments) released Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the implementation of certain reporting provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The FAQs were released to provide clarity on the required drug price disclosures identified in the Transparency in Coverage final rule (the Rule) issued on October 29, 2020.

The Rule requires most non-grandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers to: (1) upon request, disclose pricing information specific to participants, beneficiaries or enrollees (or their authorized representative) (collectively referred to herein as participants); and (2) provide public disclosures in machine-readable files regarding in-network, out-of-network and prescription drug prices. The Departments reiterated that the enforcement of the requirements related to machine-readable files disclosing in-network and out-of-network data will begin July 1, 2022 (enforcement of this part of the Rule related to prescription drugs has been delayed), and clear up confusion regarding reporting for certain alternative reimbursement arrangements.

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Agencies Clarify How Employers Can Charge COVID-19 Vaccine Premium Incentives

US employers have grown increasingly interested in identifying incentives that increase COVID-19 vaccination among employees. The US Departments of Labor, Treasury and Human and Human Services recently issued guidance regarding the application of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) wellness rules to vaccine-related premium surcharges and discounts, clarifying that employers may charge vaccine premium incentives if they adhere to the requirements of activity-only health-contingent programs. In this Employee Benefit Plan Review article, McDermott Partner Judith Wethall and McDermott Associate Sarah G. Raaii outline what this HIPPA guidance means for employers.

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Are Out-of-Pocket Costs on Their Way Out? At-Home COVID-19 Testing and Expanded Preventative Healthcare for Women and Children

In response to a directive from the White House, based on provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that eliminated cost sharing for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, three federal government departments—the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the US Department of Labor (Labor) and the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury)—issued guidance in the form of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that states group health plans and insurers must also cover over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 diagnostic testing. This guidance is effective beginning January 15, 2022.

In addition, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) updated the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) comprehensive preventive care and screening guidelines for women and children to cover additional services and supplies without a copay or deductible, effective 2023.

COVID-19 AT-HOME TESTING COVERAGE

On January 10, 2022, HHS, Labor and the Treasury together issued FAQs that elaborated on prior guidance and indicated that group health plans and insurers are required to cover OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests without cost sharing. Because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases resulting from the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the guidance will continue for the duration of the public emergency.

Most consumers with private health coverage will be able to buy OTC COVID-19 tests and either have the cost covered upfront or be reimbursed later by submitting a claim to their health plan. The new requirement only applies to “diagnostic” OTC COVID-19 testing. It does not include the treatment of COVID-19 or testing that is for employment purposes.

The guidance provides that health plans and insurers must cover at least eight OTC COVID-19 diagnostic tests per covered individual per a 30-day period. Insurers will be able to set up networks of preferred suppliers to provide OTC COVID-19 tests directly to participants without upfront costs. Insurers must still reimburse OTC COVID-19 tests purchased outside the direct coverage program, however, the reimbursable amount is limited to $12 per test if the health plan also provides tests through its preferred pharmacy network and through a direct-to-consumer shipping program without upfront costs.

Besides the risk of increasing the average cost of OTC COVID-19 tests, the new initiative raises concerns over fraud and abuse. For health plans and insurers to protect themselves, the FAQs provide several examples of permissible activities to prevent fraud and abuse, like requiring proof of purchase or an attestation that the test was purchased for proper purposes (i.e., is being used by the covered individual, is not being reimbursed by another source, is not being resold and is not for employment purposes).

HRSA UPDATES ACA PREVENTIVE HEALTHCARE GUIDELINES

On January 11, 2022, HRSA announced that it updated the preventive health and screening guidelines for women, infants, children and adolescents. Under the ACA, certain group health plans and insurers must provide coverage with no out-of-pocket costs for preventive health services within these HRSA-endorsed comprehensive guidelines.

HRSA accepted the updates recommended by the Women’s Preventative [...]

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Agencies Clarify How Employers Can Charge COVID-19 Vaccine Premium Incentives

On October 4, 2021, the US Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services issued guidance regarding the application of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) wellness rules to vaccine-related premium surcharges and discounts, clarifying that employers may charge vaccine premium incentives if they adhere to the requirements of activity-only health-contingent programs.

Employers have grown more interested in exploring incentives designed to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among employees. Some employers have announced plans to charge unvaccinated employees higher contributions for health coverage than vaccinated employees, while some have been considering other options, such as excluding coverage for COVID-related illnesses, charging higher cost-sharing for COVID-19-related illnesses and offering more generous plan options to employees who are vaccinated.

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