PHA’s Regulatory Update: 3.23.22

We are pleased to provide our most recent installment of the bi-weekly regulatory reports intended to keep PHA members informed on regulatory changes of interest to our industry. McGuireWoods, PHA’s legal counsel, produced the report.

1.         OSHA Reopens Comment Period on Healthcare ETS. On March 23, the United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that it is reopening the comment period on its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS), originally published on June 21, 2021, intended to protect healthcare and healthcare support service workers from occupational exposure to COVID-19. OSHA is reopening the comment period in a limited manner to allow for comments on changes to the ETS, including proposals to increase compliance flexibility for employers and to require employers to provide support for employees who wish to remain up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations. Of note, OSHA is not considering mandatory vaccination for employees covered by this standard. 

OSHA will hold an informal public hearing on the ETS on April 27. The notice published to the Federal Register can be found here.

2.         HHS Distributing Additional $413 Million in Provider Relief Fund Payments. On March 22, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that, through HRSA, it will be making an additional $413 million in Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 payments to more than 3,600 healthcare providers. Taking these payments into account, a total of nearly $12 billion in Phase 4 payments have been made to over 82,000 healthcare providers across the country. These payments are intended to reimburse a higher percentage of losses and expenses for smaller providers, and include bonus payments for providers serving Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries. PRF funds received in the first half of 2022 can be used until June 30, 2023.           

3.         House and Senate Pass FY 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Package. On March 9, the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus appropriations package, which included a total of $1.5 trillion in funding. That vote was followed by passage in the Senate on March 10. Notably, a measure that would have allocated $15 billion for COVID-19 relief was cut from the package after opposition to the way in which it was funded. In addition to substantial healthcare-related allocations of funds (including a total of $108.3 billion to HHS), the appropriations package extends public health emergency (PHE) telehealth waivers to 151 days past the end of the PHE, continuing the Medicare originating site flexibility. The package also requires HHS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to study telehealth utilization and develop recommendations and reforms to prevent fraud by June 15, 2023. The package also includes a provision to allow hospitals to file attestations to maintain their 340B eligibility even if their payer mixes would typically disqualify them from the 340B program. The 2022 appropriations bill can be found here.

4.         Rep. DeLauro Introduces Standalone COVID-19 Relief Bill. On March 9, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Coronavirus Supplemental Appropriations Act, a standalone bill that would provide $15.6 billion to continue managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill does not include any offsets from state and local fiscal relief funds. This bill was introduced after a measure that would have allocated $15 billion for COVID-19 relief efforts was cut from the appropriations package that passed the House of Representatives on March 9. The bill text can be found here.

5.         District Court to Hear DOJ’s Challenge to UnitedHealth and Change Healthcare Merger. On March 17, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols stated he would hear the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) lawsuit to block UnitedHealth Group from acquiring health IT company Change Healthcare on August 1. In the suit the DOJ alleges that the proposed merger would give UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, access to sensitive information about its rivals and should be blocked.