There has been a flurry of activity in Congress focused on healthcare issues over the last two weeks. Committees in both the US House and Senate held hearings on legislation focused on increasing transparency and competition in the healthcare system that could have significant impacts for certain healthcare providers, healthcare plans and pharmacy benefit managers.
The Biden administration has announced its intent to end the COVID-19 National Emergency (NE) and the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023 (read our prior article for more information). In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers and agencies made legislative and regulatory changes to expand access to telehealth services for individuals. This article explores what will happen to these temporary telehealth benefits at the end of the PHE and NE.
Current flexibilities under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) allow applicable large employers (ALEs) to offer stand-alone telehealth and remote care services to employees who were not eligible for other employer coverage during the PHE.
In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act and IRS Notice 2020-29 established a temporary telehealth safe harbor, providing that a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) could cover telehealth and other remote care services on a pre-deductible basis without impacting an individual’s ability to contribute to an HSA. This relief applied to services provided on or after January 1, 2020, with respect to plan years beginning on or before December 31, 2021. Thus, for most calendar-year plans, this relief ended on December 31, 2021. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2022 (CAA 2022) renewed the relief under the CARES Act for months beginning after March 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2023—but it created a three-month gap in coverage from January 1, 2022, to March 31, 2022. The CAA 2022 also extended certain flexibilities related to Medicare coverage and payment for telehealth services through the end of 2024. The relief provided under the CAA 2022, however, was provided on a temporary basis and not tied to the PHE or NE.
Effective December 29, 2022, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (CAA 2023) provided a two-year extension allowing first-dollar coverage of telehealth under an HDHP so that individuals can access services without needing to meet a deductible first. The CAA 2023 extends telehealth relief for plan years beginning after December 31, 2022, and before January 1, 2025. Most calendar year plans should therefore have coverage of pre-deductible telehealth services without affecting HSA eligibility for all of 2023 and 2024. When the PHE ends, stand-alone telehealth offerings must cease, but telehealth offerings on a pre-deductible basis can continue.
The stand-alone telehealth relief under the ACA is available until the end of the latest plan year that begins on or before the last day of the PHE. For calendar-year plans, this relief would last until December 31, 2023. When an employer ends its stand-alone telehealth benefit, it may need to provide participants a 60-day notice of a material reduction in benefits.
Employers offering telehealth coverage on a pre-deductible basis with HDHPs have been provided statutory relief through December 31, 2024, through the CAA 2023. However, employers should continue to watch for legislative updates regarding telehealth. Lawmakers have proposed multiple other bills in Congress to extend or make permanent telehealth flexibilities.
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CEOs may think they are fully in control of their workforces, but this belief may be more of an illusion than reality. In this Forbes article, McDermott Partner Michael Peregrine says certain pandemic-era changes to their authority may be more lasting than they realize–especially as it relates to their dynamic with the board of directors.
On December 1, 2022, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) Health Care Subgroup issued its report on fraud, waste and abuse risks that arose as a result of the dramatic increase in telehealth services provided during the COVID-19 pandemic. The PRAC was created under the CARES Act to oversee the historic spending that was part of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The PRAC Health Care Subgroup comprises the offices of the inspector general (OIGs) for six federal agencies:
- The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- The US Department of Defense (DoD)
- The Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
- The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- The US Department of Labor (DOL)
- The US Department of Justice (DOJ).
Each OIG oversees an agency that administers a federal program connected to using or paying for telehealth services.
The report highlights the increased access to services that telehealth facilitated during the pandemic and notes key focus areas with respect to program integrity and preventing fraud and abuse. The report is a resource intended to be used by stakeholders across the healthcare industry, including congressional lawmakers, federal and state agencies, and healthcare organizations. The report aims to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding expanded telehealth services against fraud, waste and abuse.
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.
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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in significant changes to the healthcare industry, specifically the transition from a fee-for-service model to a value-based care model, and digital health has proved to be a driver of value-based care models. In this Westlaw Today article, McDermott Partners Marshall E. Jackson, Jr. and Jeremy Earl suggest that increased use of telehealth during the pandemic may lead to an increase in the adoption of value-based care models that reward providers for efficiency and effectiveness.
On April 21, 2022, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board approved the Third Readoption of the state’s COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). Per Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-23-21, the Third Readoption will remain in effect for no longer than December 31, 2022. The Third Readoption makes some additional material changes and clarifications, including acceptable return-to-work criteria, elimination of certain cleaning and social distancing requirements, and creation of a “returned case” category of workers recovered from COVID-19. Employers in California should update their COVID-19 ETS policies to ensure continued compliance with Cal/OSHA’s changes in the Third Readoption.
Proposed Rule on MA and Part D Would Reinstate Historical Requirements, Make Changes to Prescription Drug Payment Structure
On January 6, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a proposed rule regarding Contract Year 2023 Policy and Technical Changes to the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Programs, marking the Biden administration’s first proposed rule on these topics. The proposed rule includes proposed changes to the manner in which pharmacy price concessions are accounted for in the Part D benefit, the timing of network adequacy reviews for Medicare Advantage Organization (MAO) applicants, and new rules regarding oversight of third-party marketing organizations. The proposed rule also reverses course on some policy changes that were initiated under the prior administration, including changes related to medical loss ratio (MLR) reporting and past performance evaluations. The proposed rule includes proposed policy updates for Dual Eligible Special Needs Plans (D-SNPs) and a few provisions related to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).
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.