Archives for April 2017

False promises rebuked by FDA, no tea or vitamin can cure cancer

Bogus cancer “treatments” being marketing and sold without FDA approval were the target of 14 warning letters and four online advisory letters, according to a press release and consumer update from the agency. The 65-plus products listed by the agency include pills, tablets, creams, syrups, sprays, oils, salves, teas, and medical devices, claiming to cure cancer in humans and pets, and have been found illegally for sale online, in retail stores, at flea markets and swap meets, and even at trade shows.

The FDA called these illegal products a “cruel deception,” and urged consumers to stay away from products that have not passed the agency’s review process, designed to ensure the safety and effectiveness of treatments. It listed the following phases or concepts as warning signs that the advertised product was unlikely to be approved by the agency:

  • treats all forms of cancer;
  • miraculously kills cancer cells and tumors;
  • shrinks malignant tumors;
  • selectively kills cancer cells;
  • more effective than chemotherapy;
  • attacks cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact; or
  • cures cancer.

Additionally, many of the products that were the subject of the warnings were advertised as “natural” or “non-toxic.”

The warning and advisory letters ask the recipient companies to provide written responses to the violations covered in the letters; if the companies fail to respond and make adequate corrections, they could be subject to further actions including criminal prosecution. According to the FDA, the best scenario for consumers who have purchased or used these products is ineffectiveness. It is possible, however, that these products could interfere with proven, beneficial treatments, or even cause direct harm.

Highlight on Alaska: FTC, DOJ back Alaska Senate’s move to eliminate certificates of need

Citing “considerable competitive concerns” raised by certificate of need (CON) laws, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint statement in support of Alaska Senate Bill 62 (SB 62), which would repeal Alaska’s CON program effective July 1, 2019. CON programs generally require firms to demonstrate an unmet need for services to the state before being permitted to enter the health care market, for example, by building a new hospital. Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla), who submitted the bill, applauded the statement, noting, “As government officials, we should not lose sight of a basic truth that competition improves the quality and lowers the costs of services; it’s what drives innovation and ultimately leads to the delivery of better healthcare.”

CON laws were enacted to reduce costs and improve access to care, based on the assumption that the existence of too many health care facilities in the same area could lead to inflated pricing for services. However, the FTC and DOJ opined that the laws create barriers to entry and expansion, allow entities to abuse the process to delay or halt competitors’ entry or expansion, and deny consumers effective remedies from anticompetitive mergers.

Alaska’s program requires parties wishing to spend at least $1.5 million on health care facility construction, alter an existing facility’s bed capacity, or add a category of health services provided to an existing facility to secure a CON after demonstrating that the quality, availability, or accessibility of existing health care resources is less than necessary “to maintain the good health of citizens of [the] state.” Specifically, it requires parties to submit an application with a fee ranging from $2,500 to $75,000.  The Department of Health and Social Services holds a public meeting and solicits comments and then submits a recommendation to the Commissioner of Health and Social Services, who makes the ultimate decision. Members of the public substantially impacted by the CON may initiate administrative proceedings and eventually seek judicial review.

The agencies stated that the existing state law raises both the monetary and time-based costs of entry and expansion, eliminates or reduces competitive pressure that normally incentivizes firms “to innovate, improve existing services, introduce new ones, or moderate prices,” and, in the event of denials, prohibits entry or expansion.  Furthermore, the law allows incumbent firms to drag out the CON application process by filing challenges or comments in order to delay competitors’ entry into the market. It also provides a platform that allows firms to form anticompetitive agreements–for example, two firms could agree to file CON applications for separate services to avoid a lengthy application process and potential challenges from one another. Finally, the existing law could impede antitrust remedies. As an example, the joint statement cited to the case of FTC v. Phoebe Putney.  Although the Supreme Court eventually ruled that an anticompetitive merger was subject to antitrust scrutiny, the entities involved had already merged and the applicable state’s CON laws made divestiture “virtually impossible.”

 

Kusserow on Compliance: Compliance officers should have active roles in CIA negotiations

Laura Ellis, HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) Senior Counsel, has a reputation for managing the most difficult and complicated corporate integrity agreements (CIAs) on behalf of the OIG. At the recent Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA) Compliance Institute, she urged compliance officers not to sit on the sidelines while a CIA is being negotiated with the OIG.   They should be actively involved in all facets of negotiation and should not wait to be involved until the agreement is signed and put into effect. She reminded everyone that once the CIA is signed, the compliance officer will be the face of the company to the OIG, not the attorneys.   From years of experience, she has found attorneys negotiating terms and conditions of a CIA often don’t have the operational experience to fully understand all the implications of what is being committed to in terms and obligation. As a result, it is not uncommon for attorneys to come back to the OIG after a CIA has been executed to try to renegotiate points.   This is triggered as result of management and the compliance officer realizing what is involved in meeting the terms and condition.   Ellis stated that the OIG is not inclined to reopen CIA negotiations.  The mistake was not having the compliance officer on the front end of negotiations and present during the negotiation process.  As the CIA settlement process takes shape, the compliance officer needs to:

  • be part of the negotiations;
  • review and comment on all drafts;
  • create a basic plan from the draft to determine what it takes to meet obligations;
  • conduct a min-gap assessment of what it takes to do what the CIA would require;
  • begin work on implementation strategies; and
  • start the process to determine resource needs to meet obligations.

Ellis also made the point that attitude matters once a CIA is in place, and compliance officers should work with the monitor in an open and honest way. A positive working relationship between the monitor and the compliance officer is to everyone’s best interest.  The earlier in the process that they get to know each other, the better.

Thomas Herrmann, J.D., was previously responsible on behalf of the OIG for negotiating CIAs and providing monitors, and subsequently gained many years of consulting experience working with more than a dozen clients with CIAs and as an independent review organization (IRO).  He says that what many fail to understand is that, although the OIG is involved in the Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement process, a different OIG attorney will be assigned as negotiator for the CIA.  Once the agreement is executed, it is passed on to a different OIG attorney to be the monitor to assure compliance with the terms of the CIA.   A very common mistake is for attorneys to deal with issues handled by someone earlier in the process, or in effect, re-litigate.  This is a big mistake.  The OIG will not re-litigate or interpret decisions made by the DOJ.  At the same time, the OIG monitor is definitely disinclined to deal with issues that were or should have been addressed with the OIG negotiator.  Herrmann goes on to explains that the OIG views the organization’s legal counsel as filling an adversarial role, but once things are executed, the OIG does not want to continue dealing with the advocate.  The focus of the relationship with the OIG should be on meeting the terms of the CIA. Herrmann sees it as a huge mistake for the legal counsel to continue making arguments or try to modify terms with the monitor, as this frequently leads to aggravation of matters and creates additional problems for the organization.  The monitor wants to deal with how the organization will meet its obligations, and that means working with the compliance officer to determine how the terms and conditions of the CIA will be fulfilled.  It behooves compliance officers to get to know their monitor as quickly as possible, evidence their commitment, and exhibit an attitude to work out what it takes to get the job done.

Carrie Kusserow has over 15 years’ compliance officer and consultant experience; in fact, she was brought in to be the compliance officer to an organization under a CIA while Laura Ellis was the monitor. Her experience with Ellis was precisely what Ellis explained during her presentation.   Maintaining the focus on meeting the obligations of the agreement is very important for credibility and permits ironing out of issues. By listening carefully and responding to Ellis’ questions openly in a forthright manner, Kusserow developed a very good working relationship.  This made work easier for everyone.  Compliance officers need to listen carefully to what the monitor expresses, working as needed and then immediately following up to report actions taken. The focus must stay on getting the job done to the satisfaction of the OIG.  It is also critical that the compliance officer at all times be “straight up” and honest with the OIG.  If this is done, then a bond of trust can be developed that can iron out details that are sure to arise. This can permit seeking non-adversarial clarification of terms and conditions. On the other hand, failing to develop a proper working relationship with the monitor can result in lack of understanding and increased work for everyone. As such, as soon as the CIA is signed, the compliance officer should come into direct contact with the OIG monitor.

Suzanne Castaldo, J.D., has worked both as a litigator and compliance consultant dealing with numerous organizations with CIAs. She confirmed what Ellis noted about attorneys negotiating with the OIG without active involvement of either management or the compliance officer. In almost every case, it has created avoidable issues.  She strongly recommends that anyone engaging a law firm to assist with CIA negotiations insist on including knowledgeable members of management and the compliance officer in all meetings with the OIG.  All terms that are being negotiated should be reviewed and assessed by them to understand all implications and resulting work obligations. Many attorneys will not find this to their liking and may argue against it.   However, not being part of this process reminds one of “arriving at the dance after it is over.”

Richard P. Kusserow served as DHHS Inspector General for 11 years. He currently is CEO of Strategic Management Services, LLC (SM), a firm that has assisted more than 3,000 organizations and entities with compliance related matters. The SM sister company, CRC, provides a wide range of compliance tools including sanction-screening.

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Copyright © 2017 Strategic Management Services, LLC. Published with permission.

 

Adoption of annual wellness visits increasing at a moderate rate

Trends in annual wellness visits (AMV) indicate a modest increase in the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries receiving an AWV from 7.5 percent in 2011 to 15.6 percent in 2014, according to a study of the trends related to annual wellness visits (AWV) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on April 19, 2017. The study found that “adoption of AWV was concentrated in ACOs [accountable care organizations] and among certain PCPs [primary care physicians] and regions of the country.”

Addition of the AMV to Medicare benefits

The AMV was added to Medicare benefits by section 4103 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) as part of its preventive care measures for Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare pays for 100 percent of the visit. The AWV became effective in January 1, 2011. According to the study, the AWV “has been promoted as a way for physicians and other clinicians to encourage evidence-based preventive care and mitigate health risks in aging patients.”

Study findings

Among the results of the study are the following findings: (1) white individuals, urban residents, and those from higher income areas and with one or two comorbidities were more likely to obtain an AWV; (2) beneficiaries that received an AWV in previous years were more likely to receive an AWV; (3) 44.4 percent of all AMVs had a concurrent problem-based visit; (4) most AMVs were performed by primary care physicians; and (5) physician practice groups or regions using more AWVs did not deliver more health care overall. The researchers also noted that beneficiaries reported unexpected out-of-pocket costs when AWVs are billed concurrently billed with problem-based visits.

The study conclusions

The study concluded that the decision to perform an AWV was primarily driven by practice factors and noted that this conclusion aligned with reports of physicians and health systems having incorporated templates, workflows, or dedicated nonphysician health care professionals to complete, document, and bill for AWVs. According to the researchers, the study had limitations, including: (1) whether AWVs increase the use of preventive care or mitigate health risks, (2) claims data could not show how often AWVs were performed by nonphysicians under physician supervision, and (3) the extent to which AWVs represent delivery of additional visits versus substitution for other visits..