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Senate Approves Resolution to End COVID-19 National Emergency Declaration

On November 15, the Senate approved a resolution to end the national emergency concerning COVID-19 declared by the president on March 13, 2020. The resolution was approved by a bipartisan vote of 62–36, with 13 Democrats joining all present Republicans in voting for the resolution.

While ending the national emergency is different than ending the public health emergency (PHE), which is declared by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the two are related, as the PHE must be tied to another declaration. Should the national emergency declaration end (as intended in this Senate resolution), most current waivers would terminate. There are notable exceptions, however, where other pieces of legislation have enacted additional flexibility (including telehealth waivers), and where policy changes in HHS rulemakings specified that policy changes are tied to the PHE. Should the national declaration end but the PHE stand, such policies would continue until the end of the PHE. Should both the national emergency declaration and the PHE end, all waiver authority would cease. Please see this +Insight for additional information.

The COVID-19 PHE, which is extended in 90-day increments, was most recently extended in mid-October, until mid-January 2023. The Biden administration has maintained a commitment to provide 60 days’ advance notice of any plans to end the PHE, and that 60-day mark recently passed with no indication that the PHE will end in mid-January. This indicates that the PHE is likely to be extended at least once more, through mid-April 2023.

Senate passage of this resolution will not have a tangible impact, as it is unlikely to be taken up by the Democratic-controlled House this year, and the president has threatened to veto it. However, the vote in the Senate demonstrates “pandemic fatigue” as well as significant bipartisan support for ending COVID-19 declarations, which suggests that the next presumed PHE extension through mid-April 2023 could be the last.




COVID and a Cloud of Dust

The COVID-19 pandemic forced lawmakers to respond with an array of legislation to help Americans, such as the No Surprises Act, the Families First Coronavirus Responses Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Now, however, pandemic-related litigation involving the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is becoming more common. In this Best Lawyers article, McDermott Partner Ted Becker highlights the major types of pandemic-related litigation, including out-of-network provider litigation, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and antitrust claims, and COVID-19-related litigation against ERISA health plans.

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GAO Releases Report on Telehealth

On September 26, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled “Medicare Telehealth: Actions Needed to Strengthen Oversight and Help Providers Educate Patients on Privacy and Security Risks.” The 75-page report describes the utilization of Medicare telehealth services under current pandemic-related waivers, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) efforts to identify and monitor risks posed by the current waivers, and a change made by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to the enforcement of regulations governing patients’ protected health information during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

GAO made four recommendations—three directed to CMS and one directed to OCR—aimed at remedying the issues set forth in the report:

  • CMS should develop an additional billing modifier or clarify its guidance regarding billing of audio-only office visits to allow the agency to fully track these visits.
  • CMS should require providers to use available site of service codes to indicate when Medicare telehealth services are delivered to beneficiaries in their homes.
  • CMS should comprehensively assess the quality of Medicare services, including audio-only services, delivered using telehealth during the PHE.
  • OCR should provide additional education, outreach or other assistance to providers to help them explain the privacy and security risks to patients in plain language when using video telehealth platforms to provide telehealth services.

Among its utilization findings, the GAO report found that the use of telehealth services increased from about five million services pre-waiver (April to December 2019) to more than 53 million services post-waiver (April to December 2020) and that, post-waiver, 5% of providers delivered more than 40% of telehealth services, and 5% of beneficiaries accounted for almost 40% of telehealth utilization.

The report noted that CMS lacks complete data on the use of audio-only technology and telehealth visits furnished in patients’ homes, because there is no billing mechanism for providers to identify all instances of audio-only visits, and because providers are not required to use available codes to identify visits furnished in homes. The GAO report also noted that OCR did not advise providers about specific language to use or give direction on explaining risks to patients, with respect to OCR’s March 2020 policy that it would not impose penalties against providers for noncompliance with privacy and security requirements in connection with the good faith provision of telehealth during the PHE.

This GAO report comes on the heels of a recent report from the HHS Office of Inspector General that found little evidence of waste and fraud related to Medicare telehealth services during the first year of the pandemic. These reports are part of a broader push by Congress and the Biden administration to examine current telehealth flexibilities and determine how to extend them beyond the COVID-19 PHE.




Monkeypox in the Workplace: Key Considerations for Employers

With much about the potential impact and scope of monkeypox still unknown, employers should consider taking proactive steps now, as may be appropriate for their workforce, to enhance and reinforce the safety protocols already in place from the COVID-19 pandemic. In this Employee Relations Law Journal article, McDermott’s Michelle S. Strowhiro, Lindsay Ditlow and Priya Singh offer three key considerations for employers with respect to monkeypox.

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Save It for a Rainy Day: Recent Amendment Extensions for Qualified Retirement Plans, 403(b) Plans and Individual Retirement Accounts

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently issued needed relief to extend some amendment deadlines for non-governmental qualified retirement plans and 403(b) plans, and for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) under the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act), the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 (Miners Act), and certain provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) until December 31, 2025. However, the IRS did not provide relief for all required amendments for the 2022 plan year. Plan sponsors that elected to offer COVID-related distributions or loan relief (or utilized disaster-related relief for loans or distributions under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020) still need to amend their plans by the end of 2022 plan year.

Read more here.




What You Should Be Telling Workers About Monkeypox

What should employers be telling workers about monkeypox? In this Fortune article, McDermott Partner Michelle Strowhiro said the first thing is to make sure workers properly understand the signs and symptoms of the viral disease.

“Now’s the time to evolve [your] COVID-19 policy into a greater safety policy that includes monkeypox, and covers the symptoms of monkeypox and protocols of what to do if you have symptoms or test positive,” Strowhiro said.

Access the article.




How Does the FMLA Apply to a Remote Workforce?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in 1993, a year when the idea of working a corporate job from a living room was rare. When the law was passed, the FMLA didn’t contemplate a remote workforce. Now, and especially post-pandemic, many companies are embracing a fully remote workforce (e.g., sales representatives, healthcare medical device technicians and software engineers). While employees’ needs for a leave of absence have always been around, remote employment and its effects on the applicability of the FMLA requirements has not. For well over two years, many employees have been working from home. Some report to a manager at the headquarters or worksite. Plenty of remote employees, however, report to an individual who also works remotely. The new remote landscape is making what used to be an easy application of FMLA eligibility into a difficult analysis. This article examines the FMLA regulatory framework for remote employees, a recent Texas federal court decision on the issue and the practical options that employers have moving forward.

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CDC Updates Its COVID-19 Guidelines: What Does It Mean for Your Business?

On August 11, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unveiled its updated COVID-19 guidelines, revising both quarantine and isolation guidelines in the process. The updates reflect the growing number of vaccinated individuals (meaning, those individuals who have received initial doses and all recommended boosters) and past exposures, leading to a greater level of herd immunity than in previous eras of the virus. These adjustments to the CDC’s guidance also serve, in large part, to clarify existing recommendations or to loosen restrictions. This article provides a closer look at what exactly the updated guidance requires and how to best approach these updates in the workplace.

Read more here.




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