Month: December, 2016

A Light at the End of the Telemedicine Tunnel Appears (on the New Jersey Side)

Upon recently reviewing the healthcare coverage benefits under a particular health plan, I was almost giddy to note that telemedicine services (both medical and mental health) were covered and reimbursable at the same rate as traditional in-person services. While some carriers have come to appreciate this form of health care service delivery, standards for licensure, practice, reimbursement, and prescription of medication have to date been unregulated and thus unclear in New Jersey.

Nevertheless, New Jersey lawmakers are working hard toward enacting legislation that would provide clarity by regulating the practice of telemedicine. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously recommended the passage of Bill No. S291, while testimony was recently taken by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee on an identical Bill No. A1464.

What is Telemedicine?

The bill’s definition of “telemedicine” is quite technical and I would refer you to the bill for that technical definition. In sum, telemedicine is the delivery of a health care service using electronic means or technology to remotely bring together a health care practitioner (e.g., a physician, nurse practitioner, psychologist, and psychiatrist) with a patient typically via two-way videoconferencing or store-and-forward technology. (Store-and-forward technology is the transmission of medical data from a patient’s location to a distant site practitioner for later assessment.) This form of communication is meant to replicate the in-person encounter experience; thus, real-time visual and auditory communication is a must. Telemedicine is not a simple phone call, email, instant message, text, or fax.

Standard of Care

Another important issue, particularly if a health care practitioner is located out-of-state, is which state’s standard of care would apply? One view has been to look to the standard of care where the patient is located. The proposed bill confirms, for New Jersey, a health care practitioner is subject to the same standard of care as he/she would be subject to if the patient encounter was physically located within New Jersey. This would apply to recordkeeping rules as well as maintenance of patient confidentiality.

Added Responsibility of Hospitals

Where a health care practitioner wishes to engage in telemedicine with patients in a hospital, the hospital’s governing body must first verify and approve the credentials of, and grant telemedicine practice privileges to, the practitioner based solely upon the recommendations of the medical staff. The medical staff recommendation is based on information provided by the originating site employer (i.e., employer of health care practitioner at location where service rendered).

Licensing

License portability is an added challenge. Most states that permit telemedicine require that a health care practitioner be licensed in the state where the patient is located. This makes sense given the state’s responsibility to protect its residents. Pursuant to the telemedicine bill, the process to obtain a New Jersey license by an out-of-state practitioner wishing to practice here will be easier or harder depending on the laws of the practitioner’s home state. If the following criteria are met, the appropriate licensing board will be required to grant a reciprocal license to an out-of-state health care practitioner: (1) the other state has substantially equivalent requirements for licensure, registration, or certification; (2) the applicant has practiced in the profession within the five-year period preceding application; (3) the respective New Jersey State board receives documentation showing that the applicant’s out-of-state license is in good standing, and that the applicant has no conviction for a disqualifying offense; and (4) an agent in New Jersey is designated for service of process if the non-resident application does not have an office here. Further, the bill proposes clarifying State Board regulations that provide only for discretionary reciprocal license: the discretion is limited to permit a reciprocal license where not all of the criteria above are met; if they are all satisfied, a license must be granted.

Face-to-face Encounter for Online Prescribing

Federal law makes if generally illegal to prescribe a controlled dangerous substance based solely on an online questionnaire completed by a patient. The question with online prescription of medication is always whether a health care practitioner (who is authorized to prescribe medication) must have an in-person encounter with a patient before prescribing medication to that patient via telemedicine. The bill permits a physician to prescribe, dispense or administer medication to a New Jersey patient if (1) the physician first performs a face-to-face examination of the patient (which examination may occur in-person or via telemedicine and must comply with the standard of care) and (2) the physician adheres to particular laws that apply to that medication. 

Reimbursement

Last, but certainly not least, there is the issue of reimbursement. Even though state regulators currently may permit various providers to engage in telemedicine, the issue of reimbursement remains. The bill would generally prohibit New Jersey Medicaid and New Jersey FamilyCare programs and private health benefit plans from requiring in-person encounters between a health care practitioner and patient, or establishing location restrictions, as a condition of reimbursement under the pertinent program. Further, parity is required for benefits covered and reimbursement rates whether the encounter is in-person or via telemedicine. A drawback to the reimbursement parity, cited by insurance plans, is that it will prevent the use of telemedicine as a cost-savings tool. Of course, the use of telemedicine in the particular situation would have to make sense (and not be contraindicated).

To date, there has been no indication on when the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee will be voting on Bill No. A1464. If the bill were to pass, it would go before the Governor for review and consideration.

Say Goodnight To The Two Midnight Rule’s Payment Reductions

The Two Midnight Rule, which was introduced as part of CMS’ FY 2014 Inpatient Prospective Payment System (“IPPS”) rule, dictates that when a physician expects a beneficiary to require care that crosses two midnights and admits the beneficiary based on that expectation, Medicare Part A payment is generally appropriate.  Conversely, if the beneficiary’s hospital stay is expected to be less than a period spanning two midnights, payment under Medicare Part A is generally inappropriate.

Because CMS anticipated significant increases in expenditures as a result of the Two Midnight Rule, CMS exercised the Secretary’s “broad authority” under 42 U.S.C. 11395ww(d)(5)(I)(i) to impose a 0.2% reduction to the national capital federal rate in FY 2014 to offset the anticipated increase in expenditures.  That same reduction was applied to the national capital federal rate in FY 2015 and FY 2016 as well.

In connection with the adoption of the Two Midnight Rule numerous commenters questioned the validity of the Secretary’s prediction of increased expenditures, upon which the decision to reduce rates was based. However, CMS never addressed these comments in detail when adopting its final rule except to say that the reductions were an appropriate use of the Secretary’s statutory exceptions and adjustments authority.

Having not received an adequate response to their comments during the rule making process, numerous hospitals filed suit challenging the 0.2% reduction. Several of those suits were consolidated before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia under the caption Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, et al. v. Burwell, Consolidated Civil Case Nos. 14-263, 14-503, 14-536, 14-607, 14-976, 14-1477 (the “Shands Litigation”).

On September 21, 2015 the Court in the Shands Litigation found that the Secretary’s failure to disclose critical assumptions made by the actuaries who calculated the alleged increase in expenditures, which was relied upon to impose the 0.2% reduction, failed to meet the standards of the Administrative Procedures Act by depriving the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. As a result, the Court remanded the matter back to the agency for further proceedings regarding the adequacy of the 0.2% reduction.

After remand, CMS issued public notice of the basis for the 0.2% reduction and its underlying assumptions.  As a result of the comments received to that public notice, CMS eliminated the 0.2% reduction for FY 2017 in connection with the FY 2017 IPPS final rule.  Additionally, CMS adjusted the FY 2017 capital IPPS rate to effectively eliminate the impact of the 0.2% reduction to rates in previous years by implementing a one-time prospective adjustment of 1.006 in FY 2017 to the national capital Federal rate.

Despite implementing this adjustment, CMS denies any error and continues to maintain that “the assumptions underlying the 0.2% reduction to the rates put in place beginning in FY 2014 were reasonable at the time we made them in 2013.”  Nevertheless, whether CMS recognized its error, or felt compelled to make this change as a result of the Shands Litigation, the end result is the same for hospitals throughout the country.  They have been relieved of the burden imposed by the 0.2% reduction associated with the adoption of the Two Midnight Rule.