The Right to Strike vs. the Right to Care0

Modern day health care is a troubled industry. Enshrouded in a net of oft-conflicting regulations and entrusted with the safety of America’s sick and wounded, many of whom lack the necessary insurance to guarantee reimbursement to their providers, the financial stability of our nation’s medical facilities is called into question on a daily basis. Today’s hospital has the unenviable task of walking a fine line between caring for its patients and remaining solvent as a business, a laudable goal attainable at least in part by recognizing the inextricable connection between the institution itself and the nurses who form an infantry amongst its ranks. Even as these nurses form an ever-present “front line” on the hospital battlefield, their recent strike in California, threatened and averted strikes in New York, and a judicially-restrained “walk out” in Riverside County, California last month, shine a harsh if necessary light on certain issues plaguing our current health care system as it stands so precariously with one foot on either side of a dangerous fence.

The nature of the nurse’s role begs the question: does participation in a labor union extend to the right to strike? … Read more →

Health care reform experiences growing pains1

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on January 27, 2012.

In its attempt to modify the basic structure of our nation’s health care system, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act has understandably caused a series of rifts between competing factions within the health care industry.  As the entire nation waits to discover its ultimate fate, the fledgling program continues to promote conflict as it experiences growing pains, exemplified by recent modifications to federal regulations that push the invisible line separating church and state from a health care perspective. With an eye to the future, the Affordable Care Act must move cautiously in its attempt to revamp the foundations of health care, fending not only for its survival in the political arena, but in terms of constitutionality as well.

At its core, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (known colloquially as the “Affordable Care Act” or “health care reform”), promotes preventative measures designed in theory to eliminate health issues before they start. With such a sweeping directive, it is certainly understandable that constitutional challenges abound within, yet two of the more recent and most highly publicized concerns stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a brief news release detailing a controversial August 2011 interim final rule that was specifically created to require health insurance plans to cover preventative services for women, including contraceptives, without charging a co-pay, co-insurance, or deductible.  Under this interim final rule, however, certain non-profit religious employers retained the option to omit contraceptive services from their employee insurance plan. Announced last week, the final decision now guarantees that women with health insurance as of Aug. 1, will be allowed access to all federally recommended preventative services, including contraception measures approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. … Read more →

California’s Vanishing Community Hospital: An Endangered Institution0

This article first appeared in the Fall 2011 Issue of California Health Law News, a Publication of the California Society of Healthcare Attorneys.

Across the nation, America’s community hospitals are under siege. Once considered indispensible to our health care system, the twenty-first century finds the local hospital fighting an uphill battle against a convergence of factors that favors the sharing of resources by multiple facilities.  Rising health care expenses, challenging regulatory hurdles, and a reimbursement structure in the midst of transition all bear some responsibility for the obstacles faced by today’s community hospital.  Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in California, where regular hospital closings amid an ever-growing population stand as incentive for remaining hospitals to team up (or remain teamed up) under the potentially false notion that in modern American health care, there is safety in numbers.

Learning From Past Mistakes – What History Reveals About Health Care

Understanding the historical evolution of the American hospital is fundamental to recognizing the core problems faced by smaller hospitals today.  From the 1736 opening of an almshouse in New York City (which would eventually become Bellevue Hospital) through the expansion to nearly 5,000 hospitals by the 1920s, and continuing through the post-1960 shift toward multifunctional facilities, health care has responded to the socioeconomic and political influences of each era.  A trend of multihospital systems replacing freestanding community hospitals picked up speed after 1965, driven largely by a combination of economic factors (including the creation of Medicare) and technological advances in medicine.  The five hospital consolidations noted in 1961 ballooned to upwards of fifty per year in the 1970s.  By the 1980s, an estimated thirty percent of the hospital beds in the United States existed within hospital systems.[1] … Read more →

Our Fear of Health Care Reform and the Household Vacuum0

“That’s the nice thing about carousels, they always play the same songs.”  The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated website This Emotional Life.

It starts with a vacuum.

The sudden, unfamiliar dissonance signals fear in his little mind, which grows quickly, magnified by the sight of an unexpected entanglement between the woman he trusts most and this monstrous machine. As he turns to run (or crawl), I find myself thankful to be just inches away, in perfect position to catch my 10-month old boy as he does his best to flee the frightful scene. His two outstretched arms secure a tight grip around my neck, while a sad face burrows deep into my chest. For one sharp moment I feel like a hero, a wholly necessary, trustworthy entity whose sole purpose is to be relied upon in times of trouble.

Fear is a formidable foe, and the ways in which we as grown ups react to its presence can often be inconsistent. Regardless of its origin, any meaningful cause for alarm typically signifies a commonality of chaos, to be first understood, and then vanquished. Though my son’s safety was obviously never compromised during his run-in with the vacuum cleaner, his reaction illustrates the fact that in the eyes of an infant the world is full of uncertainties. In the mind of a child, laughter and tears coexist every day, yet we seldom stop to consider how these emotions actually resonate. Rather, we tend to focus on the cause, which with luck might lead us to a solution, as a means to restore the calm and save the day. Indeed, some of the most seasoned parents have an entire cache of remedies upon which to rely when a crisis hits, and they wield them like weapons of precision, each one crafted and selected for just the right moment.

But what about the child in the midst of a trauma?  … Read more →

Providing Care for the Uninsured Without the Federal Case0

The article first appeared in Becker’s Hospital Review.

Estimated at close to 50 million strong, the fate of America’s uninsured has caused quite a stir of late. As the media anxiously reports on the U.S. Supreme Court’s acquiescence to assess the constitutionality of certain tenets at the heart of healthcare reform, the nation sits anxiously on the sidelines, awaiting the outcome. Indeed, a suggested, unprecedented televised hearing on the insurance mandate could potentially attract even more viewers than the record-breaking 111 million football fans who watched the Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Superbowl XLV on Feb. 6, 2011.

The uninsured conundrum

At the core of the debate lies an enormous price tag. The sheer volume in dollars it takes to provide medical treatment to the uninsured is astounding, and its ramifications affect many fundamental aspects of our healthcare structure. In 2008, uncompensated medical care in the United States approached an estimated $57 billion, of which nearly $43 billion was paid by federal, state and local governments from funds earmarked for this very purpose. Although the federal government typically foots close to half of this annual bill, its contribution equals only 2 percent of federal healthcare spending yearly. The great bulk of responsibility for America’s uninsured falls to our nation’s hospitals, who shoulder approximately 60 percent of uncompensated medical care, due largely to a regulatory structure mandating that emergency departments at hospitals participating in Medicare or Medicaid must treat just about anyone who arrives in need of medical care, regardless of citizenship, legal status or ability to pay.

To add to the friction, most Americans have a stronger grasp on the rules of professional cricket than they do the leading constitutional challenge to President Obama’s 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. … Read more →

Tracing the Evolution of American Health Care Through Medicare0

This article first appeared in the journal Health, Culture and Society.

I. Before Medicare

Since its inception as a government sanctioned public health insurance program, Medicare has been both a bone of contention between political parties and a beacon from which to gauge the changes in American health care as a whole. Passed as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1965, Medicare had as its focus individuals sixty five years of age and older, with a similar yet state-run program, Medicaid, addressing the medical needs of people with certain disabilities and low income families. Over time, however, Medicare has grown to be the preeminent standard for our nation’s health care in its entirety, with nearly every substantive change to its core foundation signaling a corresponding restructuring of our overall health care system.

The modifications imposed on Medicare, both by market forces and federal legislation, stand as a series of growing pains from which to mark the evolution of the American health care model. By charting these changes through the decades we can better understand the ways in which health care as a whole has morphed from a cost based system to one of performance evaluation. In turn, this may provide us with a glimpse into health care’s future if certain fundamental issues are not addressed in current reform legislation.

The rise of the government’s role in providing health care to its citizens came relatively late in America’s history. For much of its first two centuries the burden of caring for the sick and injured fell to neighbors, friends and relatives, with additional support from individual communities and religious groups. Visits by an actual doctor were generally limited to the home and dictated by local demographics. Almshouses and charity wards provided a certain degree of medical service, as hospitals were few and far between, and often existed solely upon the largess of the surrounding vicinities. Those who had the opportunity to visit a hospital prior to the twentieth century more than likely did so after an accident or as the result of an unfortunate designation of insanity.

Read the complete article here.

 

Keeping score on health care reform0

This article first appeared in the Daily Journal on November 9, 2011.

As 2011 enters its penultimate month, the fledgling Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues to unfold, and at times, unravel. Nearly two years after its passage, federal regulations are still building upon the original 2,700 pages, even as the threat of repeal dangles over the Executive Branch like a Sword of Damocles. With its fate resting in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court and Electoral College, and speculation as to whether the justices will make a move before the American voters have a chance to weigh in making headlines daily, it appears that many of health care reform’s latest additions may be here to stay.

The New and Improved Accountable Care Organizations

At the forefront of reform stand the new and improved accountable care organizations (ACOs), health care partnerships designed to monitor the quality and efficiency of doctors and hospitals and create new quality standards for compensation. The original version of the ACOs released last April met with significant industry-wide opposition, so much so in fact that three additional federal agencies exerted their authority heavily on the rewrites. First, the Office of the Inspector General clarified the implications of physician self-referral laws and federal anti-kickback statutes, thought by many to be glaring omissions from the original version.  Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed that entry into ACOs will not require a mandatory antitrust review, while at the same time creating an antitrust “safety zone” for ACOs approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Internal Revenue Service provided another critical component by establishing participation guidelines for charitable organizations without compromising any tax-exempt status.

Under the revised regulations, retrospective assignment of patients gave way to a preliminary prospective-assignment method, identifying beneficiaries quarterly with an opportunity for a final reconciliation after each performance year.  The new regulations also cut in half the number of quality measures to which ACOs must adhere (from 65 to 33) while adding some flexibility within each calendar year as to when ACOs must perform. Compliance with electronic health records has also been discarded as a condition of participation, although the digital medical record remains an important quality measure.

The Many Ways To Save

As the nation’s growing financial struggles threaten health care reform’s very survival, it is no wonder the government is trying to tighten its belt in any way it can. … Read more →

Advice from Antiquity0

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”  — Albert Einstein

This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated Website This Emotional Life.

Every so often I stop to reflect upon the seemingly random series of events that have led my life to its current point. In times like these my mind rarely gravitates toward any single individuals who left lasting impressions, positive or negative, but instead remains fixed on the patterns that have emerged over time.  Make no mistake, I still search for a seemingly insignificant or banal event from my past that might offer some magical context to help define the person I have become, especially in light of my newfound fatherhood.  And yet, while I am not holding out for such an epiphany any time soon for myself, such a revelation could do wonders for my son as he crawls faster and faster toward the conclusion of his first year.

At the age of eleven, I read my first Greek myth, and I was hooked. Eleven years later, I graduated from college with a major in classical studies, a discipline I have described as familiarization with an abundance of Greek myths experienced in a written rather than spoken format, in a language that dates back seven to ten thousand years.  From this historical depository of dactylic hexameter and Socratic dialogue, a few key tenets have remained permanently etched in my brain, and it is not uncommon for me to draw upon these scraps of wisdom on any given day. While often overshadowed by the technological advances that largely define our fast-paced modern society, I continually find that those bits of knowledge I learned twenty years ago are more than enough to help me navigate through even the most baffling of days.

Victory comes to men in turns.”

This famous quote from a traditional English translation of Homer’s Iliad is a source of comfort and hope in troubled times as well as a gentle reminder for us all to strive for humility at any stage. … Read more →

Health Care Reform Sets the Standard Under the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, But How Much Longer Will It Apply?0

17 No. 4 Westlaw Journal Health Care Fraud 1

October 12, 2011 — Commentary

Craig B. Garner, Esq.

Copyright © 2011 Thomson Reuters — Reprinted with Permission

Introduction

Under its aegis, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more commonly referred to as Health Care Reform, Pub. L. No. 111-148, clarified the criminal-intent requirement under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b.

Before PPACA, federal courts applied different standards of intent, both general and specific, in determining the existence of violations under the AKS. Section 6402(f)(2) of PPACA amends the AKS by stating, in part:

With respect to violations of this section, a person need not have actual knowledge of this section or specific intent to commit a violation of this section.

Like it or not, congressional design is clear, and this general-intent threshold now serves as the national standard for the AKS after PPACA. While constitutional scholars may take aim at this seemingly benign amendment when they eventually tire of health care reform’s individual insurance mandate, health care and criminal law practitioners are better served by understanding the historical landscape leading up to Section 6402(f)(2). By tracing the evolution of the AKS, as well as the companion False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729, and the Ethics in Patient Referrals Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1395nn (more commonly referred to as Stark I and Stark II), practitioners may have a stronger perspective with which to offer their clients advice within the rapidly changing climate of health care reform, rather than relying upon cautionary missives that speak to this watered-down standard of scienter.

Some legal history

Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. (“The act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.”) [FN1]

With a few exceptions, historical discussion of criminal law has tended to combine bad actions with a previously existing desire to effectuate the same. Most often in the context of ordinary, visible crimes such as murder, battery, robbery, arson, etc., a common condition precedent to conviction for such offenses was specific intent. [FN2] This mental element exists as a subset within two separate and distinct types of crimes: those prohibited by statutory authority (malum prohibitum, such as parking regulations, copyright laws and the tax code), and those plainly in violation of society’s standards (malum in se, such as rape and murder). … Read more →

Facebook and EHRs: A Very Fine Line Just Got Even Finer0

This article first appeared on iHealthBeat.org.

Americans love their privacy. And yet, as the ever-increasing trend of social networking illustrates, they also love to share the facts of their lives. As a result, defining privacy can be tricky in this modern age and often depends on the venue in which information is presented and the form it takes.

In today’s world of electronic health records, straddling the fence between harmless information and sensitive data is no longer such an easy task, and the repercussions for the slightest transgression can be severe.

On August 22, HHS issued a press release challenging software developers to create new Facebook applications to assist in emergency preparation efforts. If Facebook was a nation, its “population” would be more than double that of the United States. If online minutes for Facebook users were the functional equivalent of “dollars spent,” the social network’s estimated $84 trillion in annual “spending” would top the collective gross national products of all nations across the globe, even if the U.S. or European Union were counted twice.

While Facebook is a great way to stay connected to friends and family, it also can blur the line between privacy and the public domain. With a few quick clicks you may come to learn that Susan is at the coffee shop with Billy, Milton is attending a marketing seminar, or David is recovering nicely from a recent appendectomy at a hospital in Florida.

While Facebook might be given free rein to spread news of David and his recently removed appendix, other mediums must proceed with caution. If someone from David’s hospital was to leak his news, the hospital would face great scrutiny because health care providers are bound by law to obtain in advance David’s express, written authorization to publicly disclose details about his physical well-being. This is true even if said metadata were common knowledge among David’s 268 Facebook friends. … Read more →