Category: Healthcare Providers

Combatting the Opioid Crisis

By Andy Cole, Class of 2018

Florida Governor Rick Scott announced on September 26, 2017, plans to introduce legislation that would limit opioid prescriptions to only three days unless a set of very strict standards are met. If the standards are met, then a seven day supply would be permitted. Currently, this bill has not been filed in the House or Senate, but a similar seven day limit bill has been filed.
This legislation follows President Donald Trump declaring the opioid epidemic as a national emergency and many other states and pharmaceutical retailers taking similar stances. Less than a week before Gov. Scott’s announcement, pharmaceutical retailer CVS announced that beginning next February it will limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for patients who are new to pain therapy. Additionally, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has announced its support for a seven day limit on opioid prescriptions with exceptions for certain conditions such as cancer.
It is unclear if this legislation will pass as it is currently planned. If so, it will be the strictest opioid limitations in the country. Many states have passed seven day limits for first time opioid patients.
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker proposed a similar 72 hour limit on opioids for first time users. This proposal was met with much criticism from many doctors and advocacy groups who called the proposal “draconian.” The final product of the bill had overwhelming support from both parties. Baker, a Republican, signed the final bill after it passed unanimously through the Democrat controlled legislature.
Many state legislatures have found it hard to balance the need for doctors to maintain discretion and to curb a national crisis. Many doctors and organizations are calling for tighter restrictions that prevent overprescribing of opioids to patients who do not need the medication.
Dr. Steven Stanos, president of American Academy of Pain Medicine, said the academy “supports any initiative that would help limit the effects of over prescribing medications or leading to excessive unused medicines that could lead to harm to a patient or family members or their community.”
The trend of states seeking to regulate the amounts of opioids doctors are allowed to prescribe will continue to grow until the epidemic can be helmed. As many states look to begin drafting their legislative initiatives for 2018 and many politicians prepare for midterm elections, combating opioid addictions will undoubtedly be a bipartisan effort.
There is a possibility that many states will push for law similar to the law enacted in Massachusetts, which requires practitioners to take more steps to combat opioid misuse. The first point of the law is to limit opioid prescriptions to seven days for any new opioid prescription. This applies to all opiates Schedule II through Schedule VI. There are exceptions to this limit. Physicians can prescribe for more than seven days if the prescription is designed for the treatment of substance use disorder or opioid dependence, for inpatient prescriptions, for pain related to an acute medical condition, for chronic pain management, for pain associated with a cancer diagnoses, or for palliative care.
If a first time opiate prescription is being written for greater than a seven-day supply pursuant to an exception, the prescriber must document in the medical record the specific exception for which the opiate is being prescribed; and provide brief information about the actual condition or treatment that necessitates more than seven days; and indicate whether there were known and available non-opiate alternatives. The state has added an additional requirement for prescribing opioids to minors under the age of eighteen. For minors, the prescriber must also document that there was a discussion with the parent/guardian of the known risks with the specific prescription and why it is necessary for that condition/treatment. Additionally, prescribers must document in the medical record each and every time an outpatient opioid prescription is being issued to anyone.
This law moves beyond the prescription limit and also requires prescribers to check the Prescription Monitoring Program every time he or she schedules a Schedule II or III narcotic. The law also requires prescribers to complete training in pain management and addiction. In addition, it requires prescribers and patients to enter into a written pain management treatment agreement for prescriptions for extended-release long-acting opioids.
Finally, this law also places a new burden on pharmacists. If a patient requests a partially filled opioid prescription, the pharmacist must notify the prescriber within seven days. Then the prescriber is responsible for discussing with the patient the quantity of the prescription and the option to partial fill.
From an attorney’s point of view, it is important to make sure your client is aware of all of these changes and their new obligations under the law. While Tennessee has not enacted this type of law yet, combatting the opioid crisis in the state will be high on the legislative agenda for the next few years. A piece of legislation similar to this is bound to be at least be discussed by lawmakers as a potential route to take. At the moment it is difficult to tell how difficult it will be to monitor providers who may abuse the system.

CMS Modernizes Conditions of Participation for Home Health Agencies

By Will Blackford, Class of 2017

On January 13, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) published in the Federal Register its Final Rule pertaining to the Conditions of Participation (“CoPs”) for home health agencies (“HHAs”). The rule represents the first modernization in over two decades of the fundamental requirements for HHA participation in Medicare and Medicaid, despite efforts in 1997 to revise the entire set of HHA CoPs. With enforcement of the new provisions beginning July 13, 2017, CMS has given HHAs a six-month window for adapting their policies, procedures, and practices to comply with the new standards.

The most significant changes under the Final Rule revolve around four categories:

  • Patient Rights. CMS added an expansive CoP that sets forth the specific rights that HHAs owe each patient and the steps they must take to protect such rights.
  • Care Planning. The final rule updates the comprehensive patient assessment requirement to focus on all aspects of patient wellbeing. It also requires that a HHA provide its patients with a written copy of the plan of care and utilize an integrated communication system to identify and coordinate care between the HHA and the patient’s physicians.
  • Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement. To ensure continual evaluation and improvement of care for patients, CMS will now require that HHAs initiate a data-driven, agency-wide quality assessment and performance improvement (QAPI) program that is capable of measuring improvement in indicators that are linked to improvement in patient outcomes, safety and care quality.
  • Infection and Prevention Control. The new infection prevention and control requirement that focuses on the use of standard infection control practices, and patient/caregiver education and teaching.

In addition to the modified care standards, CMS also refined the definition of “Representative” to expressly distinguish between a patient-selected representative and a legal representative with legal decision-making authority under the law. There are numerous updates throughout the Final Rule that are shaped by this two-tiered approach to representation.

To meet these new requirements, HHAs need to familiarize themselves with the Final Rule and analyze their current policies and procedures to formulate a plan for tackling implementation of these significant changes. Agencies that fail to comply with any of the new CoPs by the July 13, 2017 deadline are at risk of penalties ranging from imposition of sanctions for marginal issues, to program termination for major infractions.

Increased Price Transparency

By Zachary Gureasko, Class of 2017

On President Donald Trump’s website, one of his objectives is: “Require price transparency from all healthcare providers, especially doctors and healthcare organizations like clinics and hospitals. Individuals should be able to shop to find the best prices for procedures, exams or any other medical-related procedure.” President Trump believes that by allowing the individual to “shop around” for the best prices, competition among providers will increase and they will be forced to lower costs.

There are some organizations that already attempt to use existing data to provide consumers with cost estimates that they can use to make cost-informed choices. One such organization is FAIR Health, which is an independent, non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote cost transparency in healthcare costs. Using the website highlights some discrepancies in costs that would be helpful to consumers. For example, a procedure done in Nashville proper priced at $5,000 could potentially cost as low as half of that amount if it was performed more than 45 miles away from Nashville.

The health care industry has long been viewed as “hiding the ball,” so to speak, when it comes to the full prices of their services. Generally, the only information they offer before the patient elects to undergo a procedure or treatment is the immediate cost, such as a co-payment or deductible. Arguments have been made, even prior to President Trump’s call for increased transparency, for the provision of total costs to the consumer. The justification for this is that consumers with more information will be able to comparison shop and obtain the desired care for a relatively affordable price.

There are issues with price transparency from both provider and consumer perspectives. There are impediments to price reporting, such as contractual provisions preventing health plans from negotiating their rates with providers, as well as the indication that encouraging patients to be more price-conscious could have negative impacts on low-income consumers due to cost-shifting. Additionally, there is currently no standard structure for reporting prices, and the interplay between health care providers, insurance companies, and government agencies almost require some sort of formatted structure to be in place to enable providers to adequately report in a way that would achieve the intended result of these price transparency efforts.

Several studies have also shown that price transparency initiatives, such as requiring hospitals to publish the prices of their procedures and treatments up-front, do not truly lead to changes in either consumer behavior or pricing. This result is potentially attributable to a perceived correlation between high cost and high value, one that is not necessarily accurate in the health care industry as it might be in other industries. Another wrinkle in the fold from a consumer perspective is the notion that consumers will use price transparency tools in their decision-making. However, many consumers are unaware that such tools exist; moreover, even if they are aware of the tools’ existence, research has shown that this has little to no bearing on the consumers’ ultimate decisions or determinations.

As a final consideration, although efforts to increase price transparency are still in their early stages (and thus there is not enough data to form a fully conclusive study on their impact), not all health care services are amenable to “shopping around.” For instance, a person in an emergent situation will not be on his or her smartphone comparing the prices of different ERs. The person will assuredly utilize the nearest hospital with an emergency room. Emergency room services comprise a fairly substantial portion of health care costs. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether increased price transparency will truly increase competition or lower health care costs for consumers.