HHS Seeks to Revamp HIPAA Privacy Rule

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has  issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from the public on how the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules, especially the HIPAA Privacy Rule, could be modified to further the HHS secretary’s goal of promoting coordinated, value-based health care.

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OCR Director Roger Severino

This RFI is a part of the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, an initiative led by Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan.

HHS developed the HIPAA Rules to protect individuals’ health information privacy and security interests, while permitting information sharing needed for important purposes. However, in recent years, OCR has heard calls to revisit aspects of the Rules that may limit or discourage information sharing needed for coordinated care or to facilitate the transformation to value-based health care.

The RFI requests information on any provisions of the HIPAA Rules that may present obstacles to these goals without meaningfully contributing to the privacy and security of protected health information (PHI) and/or patients’ ability to exercise their rights with respect to their PHI.

“This RFI is another crucial step in our Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care, which is taking a close look at how regulations like HIPAA can be fine-tuned to incentivize care coordination and improve patient care, while ensuring that we fulfill HIPAA’s promise to protect privacy and security,” said Deputy Secretary Hargan.

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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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States, Municipalities Ring in New Minimum Wage Laws on Jan. 1

Seattle will set the bar for minimum wage rates on Jan. 1 when a $16-per-hour legal mandate takes effect, but the rate applies only to employers with 500 or more employees (think Amazon).

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Click on the image for a larger, more readable version.

New York City won’t be far behind when it boosts its legal pay rate to $15 an hour for all employers on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2018, thus beating all other states and municipalities in the minimum wage race by one day. Many other municipalities and several states will boost their rates later, on July 1.

The federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, having seen its last increase in 2009.

For a rundown on the new rates, please click on the map image to open up a larger, more readable version.

Meanwhile, if you need to update your labor law poster for 2019 to reflect the many federal and state changes that have occurred in the past year, please CLICK HERE or call Customer Service at (800) 333-3795, option 2.


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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NLRB Aims to Reduce Case Processing Time

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is issuing its Strategic Plan for fiscal years 2019 through 2022, which is required under the Government Performance and Results Act of 2010.  The Strategic Plan contains four mission-related goals to support the vision of NLRB Chairman John Ring and General Counsel Peter Robb.

NLRB-issues-new-strategic-planThese four mission-related goals include: (1) achieving a collective 20 percent increase (5 percent over each of four years) in timeliness in case processing  of unfair labor practice charges, (2) achieving resolution of a greater number of representation cases within 100 days of the filing of an election petition, (3) achieving organizational excellence and productivity, and (4) managing agency resources efficiently and in a manner that instills public trust.

To achieve these stated goals, the Strategic Plan calls for an annual, Agency-wide 5 percent reduction in case processing time for unfair labor practice charges. This reduction includes not only case handling in the regional offices, but also the time between issuance of an Administrative Law Judge’s decision and a Board Order, and issuance of a Board Order and closure of a case.  Over the years, the amount of time it takes for cases to be processed and for resolutions to be reached has increased and backlogs of cases have developed.  This initiative has been developed to reverse these trends.

In support of the Strategic Plan, the General Counsel has issued Memorandum GC 19-02, Reducing Case Processing Time, discussing how these goals affect the NLRB’s Divisions of Advice, Legal Counsel, Enforcement Litigation, Operations-Management and the Regional offices.


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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Tax Law Allows Full Expensing of Business Property in First Year

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is reminding small business taxpayers that changes to the tax law mean they can immediately expense more of the cost of certain business property. Many are now able to write off most depreciable assets in the year they are placed into service.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), passed in December 2017, made tax law changes that will affect virtually every business and individual in 2018 and the years ahead. Among those for business owners are tax rate changes for pass-through entities, changes to the cash accounting method for some, limits on certain deductions and more.

A taxpayer may elect to expense all or part of the cost of any Section 179 property and deduct it in the year the property is placed in service. The new law increased the maximum deduction from $500,000 to $1 million. It also increased the phase-out threshold from $2 million to $2.5 million. These changes apply to property placed in service in taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017. For most businesses, this means the 2018 return they file next year.

Section 179 property includes business equipment and machinery, office equipment, livestock and, if elected, qualified real property. The TCJA also modifies the definition of qualified real property to allow the taxpayer to elect to include certain improvements made to nonresidential real property.

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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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IRS Extends Deadline for Obamacare Employee Information Forms

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), saying that “a substantial number of employers, insurers, and other providers of minimum essential coverage need additional time,” has extended the deadline for supplying Form 1095-B and 1095-C to individuals from Jan. 31, 2019, to March 4, 2019.

IRS-announces-cola-adjustmentsForm 1095-B is titled “Health Coverage,” while Form 1095-C is called “Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage.” Both are mandated by provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires “health insurance issuers, self-insuring employers, government agencies, and other providers of minimum essential coverage to file and furnish annual information returns and statements regarding coverage provided.”

The details of the extension can be found in IRS Notice 2018-94.


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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CMS Gives States Power to Refashion Obamacare

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of the Treasury issued new guidance on Nov. 29, allowing states to move their insurance markets away from what they called the “one-size-fits-all” rules and regulations imposed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) and increase choice and competition within their insurance markets.

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CMS Administrator Seema Verma

The guidance grants states more flexibility to design alternatives to the ACA and to give Americans more options to get health coverage that better meets their needs.

Under this new policy, states will be able to pursue waivers to improve their insurance markets, increase affordable coverage options for their residents, and ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected. These waivers are called State Relief and Empowerment Waivers to reflect this new direction and opportunity, according to a press release announcing the guidance.

“Seeing the problems the ACA created and seeing the lack of federal action to address these problems should be proof enough for why it was such a mistake to federalize so much of health care policy under the ACA,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma explained in announcing the new direction.

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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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States Seek Medicaid Work Requirement Authority

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is granting waivers for states to establish work requirements for the able-bodied who receive Medicaid health care services. The requirements usually consist of community service, job training or schooling, if not outright employment.

cms-issues-waviers-for-medicaid-work-requirementsThe waivers are designed to control the costs of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) and to prevent fraud and abuse of the system. Some 15 million people have gained access to health care since the expansion began in 2014.

CMS has already granted waivers to Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. There are 10 other states with pending waivers.

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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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Workplace Injuries, Illnesses Continue to Decline, BLS Confirms

There were approximately 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 2017, which occurred at a rate of 2.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this month.

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State-by-state comparison of injury-illness incidence rates
Click to enlarge

Private industry employers reported nearly 45,800 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2017 compared to a year earlier, according to estimates from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII).

Among the findings reported by the bureau:

  • The 2017 rate of total recordable cases (TRC) fell 0.1 cases per 100 FTE workers to continue a pattern of declines that, apart from 2012, occurred annually since 2004.
  • The rates for different types of cases — days away from work (DAFW), days of job transfer or restriction only (DJTR), and other recordable cases (ORC) — were unchanged from a year earlier.
  • The rate for DJTR cases has remained at 0.7 cases per 100 FTE workers since 2011.
  • Nearly one-third of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses resulted in days away from work.
  • Among the 19 private industry sectors, only manufacturing and finance and insurance experienced statistically significant changes in their overall rates of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in 2017 — each declined by 0.1 cases per 100 FTE workers compared to 2016.

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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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Obamacare Enrollment Reaches Nearly 2 Million

In week three of the 2019 Open Enrollment, 748,244 people selected plans using the HealthCare.gov platform, bringing the total to 1,924,476.

obamacare-enrollment-reportAs in past years, enrollment weeks are measured Sunday through Saturday.  Consequently, the cumulative totals reported in this snapshot reflect one fewer day than last year.

Every week during Open Enrollment, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will release enrollment snapshots for the HealthCare.gov platform, which is used by the Federally-facilitated Exchanges and some State-based Exchanges. These snapshots provide point-in-time estimates of weekly plan selections, call center activity, and visits to HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

The final number of plan selections associated with enrollment activity during a reporting period may change due to plan modifications or cancellations. In addition, the weekly snapshot only reports new plan selections and active plan renewals and does not report the number of consumers who have paid premiums to effectuate their enrollment.


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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EEOC Issues Performance and Accountability Report

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is reporting significant increases in its outreach efforts and enforcement actions to prevent and remedy unlawful employment discrimination during fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. The EEOC detailed its accomplishments in its annual Performance and Accountability Report published on Nov. 15.

eeoc-releases-performance-reportAs noted last week, the EEOC’s fiscal year 2018 highlights include:

  • The launch of a nationwide online inquiry and appointment system as part of the EEOC’s Public Portal resulted in a 30 percent increase in inquiries and over 40,000 intake interviews.
  • The EEOC’s outreach programs reached 398,650 individuals, providing them with information about employment discrimination and their rights and responsibilities in the workplace. To address persistent workplace harassment, the EEOC conducted more than 300 Respectful Workplaces trainings that reached over 9,800 employees and supervisors in the private, public and federal sectors.
  • The EEOC secured approximately $505 million and other relief for over 67,860 victims of discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC’s legal staff resolved 141 merit lawsuits, filed 199 more in FY 2018, and filed 29 amicus curiae briefs on significant legal issues in employment discrimination cases.
  • The EEOC also made significant progress in reducing its backlogs, reporting a 19.5 percent reduction in its private sector charge backlog, a 19.4 percent reduction in the backlog of federal employee appeals, an 8.6 percent reduction in the backlog of federal employee hearings, and a 7.6 percent reduction in the backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The EEOC’s fiscal year 2018 Performance and Accountability Report is posted on the agency’s website at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/upload/2018par.pdf . Comprehensive enforcement and litigation statistics for fiscal year 2018 will be available on the agency’s website later in fiscal year 2019.


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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