HHS to Soften Privacy Restrictions to Aid in Substance Abuse Fight

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced proposed changes to the federal regulations governing the confidentiality of patient records created by federally-assisted substance use disorder treatment programs, known as 42 CFR Part 2.

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HHS Secretary Alex Azar

The proposed rule establishes important revisions that support coordinated care among providers that treat substance use disorder (SUD), while maintaining privacy safeguards for patients seeking treatment for SUD. The proposed rule is the first of four regulations that have been identified in HHS’s Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care that seeks to promote value-based outcomes for patients by examining federal regulations that impede coordinated care among health providers.

“President Trump has promised Americans a healthcare system that provides affordable, high-quality, patient-centric healthcare — a system that treats you like a person, not a number. But outdated regulations have often stood in the way of delivering that kind of care, and our proposed reforms to 42 CFR Part 2 aim to change that,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “These changes also reflect the high priority that the Trump Administration places on improving the quality and availability of behavioral healthcare, especially as we combat our nation’s crisis of opioid addiction and substance abuse.”

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Individual Health Insurance Market Continues Its Decline

From a peak of 18.8 million in 2015  — the first year of Obamacare — the number of Americans enrolled in individual marketplace health insurance policies has dropped to 13.7 million, most of the decline stemming from the non-Obamacare exchanges.

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Following the zeroing out in 2019 of the individual mandate penalty — buy insurance or pay a fine — 651,000 enrollees dropped coverage in the private exchanges, while enrollment in Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) policies remained fairly stable at 10.6 million.

The figures were released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which said its “analysis provides an early look at how the market is working following recent policy changes that some argued would spark dramatic upheaval among consumers who buy their own health insurance either through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces or through off-exchange plans..”

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Take Me Out to the Courtroom, Arizona Minor Leaguers Vow

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that minor league baseball players in Arizona can sue for minimum wage under Arizona’s governing laws. The state’s minimum wage is currently $11 an hour, rising to $12 next Jan. 1.

mlb-seeks-exemption-from-FLSAFirst-year minor leaguers are forced to sign a contract that pays them $1,100 a month, excluding the four-week spring training camp that runs each year in February and March.

The Uniform Player’s Contract that all minor leaguers sign binds them for seven years unless they quit, get released or earn a spot on a major league roster. Salaries can rise, and many of the players get signing bonuses.

Judge Richard Paez, writing for the majority, said that the contract “strongly indicates” that participation in spring training is mandatory, even though the players are not paid. He also cited the use of post-season instructional leagues, where minor leaguers are often assigned for additional training — but again with no pay.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has long argued that their players are exempt from the wage and hour requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), citing the law’s “seasonal amusement” exemption.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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DOL Seeks Comments on Proposed Changes to FMLA Forms

The Department of Labor (DOL) and its Wage and Hour Division (WHD) are seeking public comments through Oct. 4 on proposed changes to the forms used for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave.

fmla-celebrates-26th-anniversaryAccording to the DOL, the goal in revising the forms is to increase compliance with the FMLA, improve customer service, and reduce the burden on the public by making the forms easier to understand and use.

WHD drafted revisions with input from the public and is seeking comment on the proposed changes, which include:

  • Fewer questions requiring written responses; replaced by statements that can be verified by simply checking a box
  • Reorganization of medical certification forms to more quickly determine if a medical condition is a serious health condition as defined by the FMLA
  • Clarifications to reduce the demand on health care providers for follow-up information
  • More information on the notification forms to better communicate specific information about leave conditions to employees
  • Changes to the qualifying exigency certification form to provide clarity to employees about what information is required
  • Changes to the military caregiver leave forms to improve consistency and ease of use
  • Layout and style changes to reduce blank space and improve readability

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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After Steep Increases in 2019, Obamacare Premiums Poised to Moderate

An analysis of health insurer rate filings with state commissioners shows that 2020 premiums for policies sold on the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) exchanges look to rise just 0.6 percent, according to a report by Healthcare Dive.

health-care-spending-to-rise-5.5%-annuallyMany states might actually see a decrease, with Colorado showing an expected plunge of 18 percent.

The projected overall slight increase is largely the result of overpricing in 2019.

“Plans had been so overpriced last year that insurers are now required under the ACA to issue record-large rebates to consumers. Plans were overpriced because insurers over-corrected and raised premiums too high going into 2018, amid the uncertainty of ACA repeal and the loss of cost-sharing subsidy payments,” explained Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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No Subsidy=No Obamacare for 2.5 Million Drop-Outs

From 2016 to 2018, 2.5 million customers who failed to qualify for a subsidy dropped their coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), a 40 percent falloff, according to data released Monday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma

“As President Trump predicted, people are fleeing the individual market. Obamacare is failing the American people, and the ongoing exodus of the unsubsidized population from the market proves that Obamacare’s sky-high premiums are unaffordable,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

The CMS  report released yesterday shows that people who do not qualify for subsidies continue to be priced out of the market. Following a decline of 1.3 million unsubsidized people in 2017, another 1.2 million unsubsidized people left the market in 2018. These enrollment declines among unsubsidized enrollees coincided with increases in average monthly premiums of 21 percent in 2017 and 26 percent in 2018.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Proposed Overtime Rule Heads to White House

The Department of Labor (DOL) is sending its proposed new overtime rule to the White House today for review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) just five months after initiating the regulatory process.

Acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella

The rule, as initially proposed, would raise the overtime salary exemption threshold to $35,308 a year, up from the current level of $23,660, established in 2004.

An Obama-era ruled establishing the threshold at $47,476 a year was stopped dead in its tracks just days before it was to take effect in 2016 by a federal judge’s ruling.

That ruling was predicated on provisions in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Blue State attorneys general (AGs) have already announced their intention to challenge the new rule in court based upon the same APA. They may argue that the DOL ignored the majority of the 116,000 public comments received that pleaded for the higher Obama-era threshold.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Senate Approves EEOC Nominees

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved the nomination of Sharon Fast Gustafson as general counsel and the re-nomination of Democrat Charlotte Burrows as commissioner for a second term on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Sharon Fast Gustafson

Sharon Gustafson

Both approvals came via a process known as unanimous consent, which does not require a vote.

Two days earlier, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the nominations to be sent for floor confirmation. The vote for Burrows was 23-0 and for Gustafson 13-10, with just one Democrat voting in favor.

The general counsel position has been vacant throughout the Trump administration. Gustafson is a employment lawyer practicing solo in Virginia. In her practice, she represents mostly employees in discrimination and whistleblower cases. (more…)


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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HHS to Allow Importation of Cheaper Prescription Drugs

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that HHS and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are publishing a Safe Importation Action Plan – PDF that outlines two potential pathways that would lay the foundation for the safe importation of certain drugs originally intended for foreign markets.

“President Trump has been clear: for too long American patients have been paying exorbitantly high prices for prescription drugs that are made available to other countries at lower prices. When we released the ‘President’s drug pricing blueprint’ for three-companies-to-revolutionize-health-careputting American patients first, we said we are open to all potential solutions to combat high drug prices that protect patient safety, are effective at delivering lower prices, and respect choice, innovation and access,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“Today’s announcement outlines the pathways the Administration intends to explore to allow safe importation of certain prescription drugs to lower prices and reduce out of pocket costs for American patients. This is the next important step in the Administration’s work to end foreign freeloading and put American patients first.”

The Action Plan outlines the government’s intention to pursue two pathways to allow safe drug importation from foreign markets: (more…)


NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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Anonymous Lawsuits Alleging Harassment, Discrimination on the Rise

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more and more individuals are seeking redress anonymously, asking for court permission to file their cases with pseudonyms — John and Jane Does.

anonymous-harassment-lawsuits-on-the-riseAccording to research by Bloomberg Law, there were 52 anonymous harassment and discrimination lawsuits in 2018, up from 24 the previous year and from just 17 in 2016. So far this year, there have been 24 such anonymous filings.

Judges are generally given great discretion in granting or denying a litigant’s request to file suit anonymously. If anonymity is granted, the rationale is usually that the issues are highly sensitive, extremely personal or could result in physical harm.

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NOTE: The details in this blog are provided for informational purposes only. All answers are general in nature and do not constitute legal advice. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The author specifically disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the reliance on or use of this blog.
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