Monday Roundup

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Today, the House of Representatives voted 322-87 to override the President’s veto of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Govexec notes that “The NDAA contains several provisions for federal employees, such as making technical corrections to the paid parental leave policy from last year’s bill and waiving the normal annual cap for unused leave from year to year.” The Senate is expected to complete the veto action in a vote tomorrow. This would be the first time that Congress has overridden one of President Trump’s vetoes.

The House of Representatives also voted in favor of a “clean bill” to amend the latest COVID-19 relief law (H.R. 133) by increasing the direct stipend from $600 to $2000 per person. That bill now goes to the Senate.

The FEHBlog noted earlier this month that the American Hospital Association had asked Congress not to disrupt payer / provider network contracting in the COVID-19 relief bill. Of course, the surprise billing restrictions may encourage in-network providers to make the jump to out-of-network status particularly if the surprise billing arbitration decisions favor the providers. Time will tell on that one, but the following ACA amendment in H.R. 133 reminded the FEHBlog of the AHA’s warning.

Division BB, SEC. 108. IMPLEMENTING PROTECTIONS AGAINST PROVIDER DISCRIMINATION.

Not later than January 1, 2022, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of the Treasury shall issue a proposed rule implementing the protections of section 2706(a) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 300gg-5(a)). The Secretaries shall accept and consider public comments on any proposed rule issued pursuant to this subsection for a period of 60 days after the date of such issuance. Not later than 6 months after the date of the conclusion of the comment period, the Secretaries shall issue a final rule implementing the protections of section 2706(a) of the Public Health Service Act

Congress has set the fuse on another one of the Affordable Care Act’s time bombs directed at provider networks. Section 2706(a) reads as follows:

A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable State law. This section shall not require that a group health plan or health insurance issuer contract with any health care provider willing to abide by the terms and conditions for participation established by the plan or issuer. Nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing a group health plan, a health insurance issuer, or the Secretary from establishing varying reimbursement rates based on quality or performance measures.

The Obama Administration on April 29, 2013, issued the following ACA FAQ on this law:

Q2:  Will the Departments be issuing regulations addressing PHS Act section 2706(a) prior to its effective date?

No.  The statutory language of PHS Act section 2706(a) is self-implementing and the Departments do not expect to issue regulations in the near future.  PHS Act section 2706(a) is applicable to non-grandfathered group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual health insurance coverage for plan years (in the individual market, policy years) beginning on or after January 1, 2014. 

Until any further guidance is issued, group health plans and health insurance issuers offering group or individual coverage are expected to implement the requirements of PHS Act section 2706(a) using a good faith, reasonable interpretation of the law.  For this purpose, to the extent an item or service is a covered benefit under the plan or coverage, and consistent with reasonable medical management techniques specified under the plan with respect to the frequency, method, treatment or setting for an item or service, a plan or issuer shall not discriminate based on a provider’s license or certification, to the extent the provider is acting within the scope of the provider’s license or certification under applicable state law.  This provision does not require plans or issuers to accept all types of providers into a network.  This provision also does not govern provider reimbursement rates, which may be subject to quality, performance, or market standards and considerations.

The Departments will work together with employers, plans, issuers, states, providers, and other stakeholders to help them come into compliance with the provider nondiscrimination provision and will work with families and individuals to help them understand the law and benefit from it as intended. 

The FEHBlog recalls that ancillary providers such as chiropractors were particularly exercised by, and insurers were relieved by, the Administration’s statement that “This provision does not govern provider reimbursement rates, which may be subject to quality, performance, or market standards and considerations.” While the statute does not expressly mention consideration of “market standards and considerations,” such a fine point has not stopped federal agencies from elaborating on statutory standards in the past. The FEHBlog expects that this mandated rule making will be a tug of war over statutory interpretation that will wind up in the courts If the providers win this tug of war and the surprise billing arbitrations, then healthcare spending will resume its upward curve.

And there’s more to follow tomorrow. If you want to find the text of H.R. 133 visit this Congress.gov website and download the PDF of the enrolled bill. The ACA amendments may be found in Division BB. You can search for Division BB using the Adobe Acrobat find tool.

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