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The AHLA annual meeting, held June 27-29 in Chicago, brought together health advocates from across the country. The diverse group of attendees were eager not only to reconnect in person, but also to process the changes the easing pandemic has brought to all corners of the healthcare industry. Conference presenters addressed in real time the transient nature of the healthcare landscape today, including the significant role technology has played in driving changes in care delivery. The roundtables assessed what changes in health care delivery and reimbursement would continue post-pandemic, and in what form.
Here, we provide an overview of what our health law experts learned at the conference in relevant thematic areas:
- Technology. Health technology was the dominant topic, with presenters and attendees discussing how the industry will be transformed by virtual care modalities and new artificial intelligence capabilities. As always, with technology comes data, and experts have been delving into issues such as data usage, licensing, aggregation, new information blocking rules, ransomware attacks/ cyber insurance and disaster preparedness, whether natural or man-made.
- Regulatory and enforcement environment. Many programs have focused on the government’s response to the pandemic, including how the government can change its policies once the public health emergency (“PHE”) is over. Regulatory and litigation experts discussed future enforcement strategies the government may pursue to identify and address cases of fraud that have occurred during the PHE, particularly in relation to telehealth.
- Antitrust and labor relations. Against the backdrop of inflation, rising prices and changes in the labor market in general, attendees heard from antitrust experts about a new focus on the criminal enforcement of antitrust violations in the labor market . Attorneys are aware of the proposed Federal Labor Mobility Act of 2021 and other new or reactivated state antitrust laws that may impact the use and scope restrictive covenants in the healthcare industry (eg, non-competition/non-solicitation covenants) on an on-the-go basis. Finally, antitrust experts explained how leaders of healthcare entities can engage with unions and workers to improve working conditions for healthcare providers and other industry players, even in the context of consolidation transactions. .
- Health Equity. In addition to the technical legal issues posed by technology in healthcare, presenters and attendees at the AHLA meeting addressed social issues impacting the healthcare industry and their effect on the healthcare industry. health equity. Dr. Gurpreet Dhaliwal, clinician-educator and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, focused on health equity in his keynote: Digital Health Technology – Raising Hopes or Removing Obstacles? For example, Dr. Dhaliwal challenged participants to ask why the life expectancy of Americans is more closely related to where they live than to other factors, such as race/ethnicity, genetics or the quality of medical care. He encouraged listeners to consider why geography is such an important driving force for the social determinants of patient health, and also to consider the options available to participants to promote improved accessibility and convenience. equity in health care within their sphere of influence. Presenters from other fields spoke of the need to identify systemic inequities and develop creative solutions to improve health equity while providing effective, high-quality care, such as virtual first practice, appointments you shared medical, virtual emergency care, remote patient monitoring and hospital. -at home. In addition to explaining current potential solutions, presenters also highlighted the need to analyze outcome data to ensure that these types of new approaches generate the desired outcomes from a value-based care perspective and of cost reduction.
- Mental/behavioral health. Behavioral health and access to mental health resources was another major topic, with policy experts presenting to lawyers about 988, the soon-to-be-launched new National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Against the backdrop of 988 and its planned launch date of July 2022, attendees learned about the challenges of funding, staffing, and operating behavioral healthcare centers. The difficulties in establishing this framework are heightened at a time when public awareness of mental health and the need for such care is increasing, particularly in response to the pandemic. However, as the presenters pointed out, the challenges of transforming access and resources for mental health care offer tremendous opportunities for those involved in health care delivery. A poignant finding was that efforts to expand this access would reduce the burden on already fatigued first responders and healthcare providers by integrating new community support efforts with existing resources.
- Advising clients in times of change. Considering technology and health equity issues and potential clinical and policy solutions, participants heard about potential ways to protect clients seeking to engage in new modalities of care delivery in addition to comply with existing rules on fraud and abuse. Presenters discussed how regulators like CMS continue to focus on developing and expanding value-based care, including through new safe harbors (e.g. engagement and patient support, value-based care, care coordination, financial risk, among others). However, even with an appetite from regulators for new approaches, scrupulous adherence to regulatory guidelines remains paramount for in-house and outside counsel. Specifically, attorneys helping clients enter into these new arrangements should consider any applicable PHE waivers, but anticipate adjustments to the arrangement where waivers will cease to apply once the PHE is complete and the implications potential termination/force majeure of the interim arrangements. Lawyers need to be aware of issues of scope of practice and provider oversight, as well as applicable consent rules, and presenters emphasized that lawyers need to exercise professional skepticism when assessing potential risks in regulation and enforcement. For example, attorneys need to understand the applicability of services, review issues related to potential overuse, and ensure clients adhere to contractual rules regarding cost-sharing obligations with beneficiaries.
The AHLA conference highlighted many challenges to the healthcare system as a whole and new risks for which advocates need to be prepared, especially as PHE ends and certain elements of healthcare continue related to the COVID pandemic. In reconnecting healthcare lawyers, however, the conference reminded us that we are all in this together and that there is substantial strength in a group of smart, committed lawyers who are focused on helping their clients. of the health sector to improve their operations. And – amid significant change – the conference emphasized that health advocates have a deep purpose in their work, supporting collective efforts to improve the lives of people seeking access to health care and public resources in these times. difficult.
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