It has now been one month since the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) sent its proposed information blocking rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for required review.

We expect OMB to approve the much-anticipated proposed rule and ONC to release it soon with the usual opportunity for public comment. While we wait, there are some things that health information technology developers, health information exchanges, health information networks and health care providers who may be subject to the information blocking prohibition and enforcement actions can do to prepare for the upcoming comment period. But before we get to comments, let’s remind ourselves about how we got to this point.

By way of background, Congress asked ONC to produce a report describing the extent of information blocking and a strategy to address it. ONC submitted that report to Congress in 2015 (the 2015 Report) noting, among other things, enforcement authority gaps and indicating that successful information blocking prevention strategies would likely require congressional intervention. In the 21st Century Cures Act, which became law in 2016, Congress granted the HHS Office of Inspector General investigative and enforcement authorities for prohibited information blocking conduct. The Cures Act defined information blocking as a practice that “except as required by law or specified by the Secretary…, is likely to interfere with, prevent, or materially discourage access, exchange, or use of electronic health information [(EHI)].” As part of the law, Congress tasked the Secretary of HHS with issuing rules that identify “reasonable and necessary activities” that will not be considered prohibited information blocking. This is one purpose of ONC’s proposed rule.

At this point, we do not know precisely what kinds of activities ONC will propose to permit by carving them out of the broad information blocking prohibition. However, from the Cures Act we do know the types of practices Congress believed “may” be information blocking, namely:

  • restricting authorized access, exchange and use of EHI for treatment and other permitted purposes, and
  • implementing technology in ways that are:
    • nonstandard and likely to substantially increase the burden or complexity of access, exchange and use of EHI;
    • likely to impede EHI with respect to exporting complete information sets and in transitioning between health IT systems; or
    • likely to lead to fraud, waste and abuse, or impede innovation and advancements in health information access, exchange or use.

These track closely to the types of practices ONC identified as raising information blocking concerns in the 2015 Report, which also provided a few illustrative examples, including:
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McDermott is gearing up for an exciting week of programming during the 2018 BIO International Convention. A number of McDermott partners will on the ground as panelists and moderators across a range of programs during BIO and we hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 31 | Al Sokol will moderate a panel discussion on

Specialty pharmacy is not going away any time soon – by 2020, it’s expected that the pharmacy industry’s revenue will exceed $483 billion, with almost all growth as a result of specialty drugs (high-cost medications used to treat chronic conditions, such as cancer). It’s also estimated that the next generation of pharmaceutical “blockbusters” will be primarily specialty products. As the make-up of the pharmaceutical market shifts, we’re also seeing changes with the role of pharmacy benefit managers and other medical groups in the process. How are these shifts in specialty pharmacy impacting the health care system as a whole?

We asked Karen Gibbs, McDermott partner and former VP and Senior Counsel at CVS, to share her expertise on the subject and her thoughts on what’s to come.

Q.  Investments in niche sectors of pharmacy services, specialty pharmacy and pharmacy benefit management have gained huge traction recently. What’s driving the shift away from more traditional pharmacies?   

A.  Traditional pharmacies are retail establishments and have been suffering from the same earnings pressure that all retail establishments have endured. Pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) typically own mail and specialty pharmacy operations, which generate revenue in a manner complementary to that derived from the pharmacy benefit management services. The margin on specialty pharmacy and PBM services is significantly more than retail pharmacy.
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