NY Budget Offers Legal Immunity to Healthcare Providers in Light of COVID-19

Molly Stubbs

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

NY Budget Offers Legal Immunity to Healthcare Providers in Light of COVID-19

Within the recently passed New York State budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is a newly enacted act offering legal immunities to healthcare providers in the fight against COVID-19. The Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act (EDTPA) acknowledges the “enormous response” from both the state government alongside public and private healthcare professionals throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The act seeks to provide liability protections while promoting, “the public health safety and welfare of all citizens.”

Immunities for Healthcare Providers

The act, which took effect retroactively from Governor Cuomo’s March 7th emergency declaration until the expiration of the order, designates “immunity from any liability, civil or criminal,” for New York healthcare providers. Healthcare providers are broadly defined as any licensed medical personnel, “whether acting as an agent, volunteer, contractor, employee, or otherwise,” who are actively treating patients during the COVID-19 crisis.

The immunity protections specifically cover COVID-19 damages in three parts. First, providers are entitled to legal immunity for, “any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health care services… pursuant to a COVID-19 emergency.” Secondly, immunity applies to a provider’s, “act or omission [that] occurs in the course of…providing health care services and the treatment of the individual is impacted by the health care facility’s or health care professional’s decisions or activities in response to or as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and in support of the state’s directives.” Thirdly, healthcare providers are guaranteed protections for treatment provided in “good faith.” Legal protections become void for healthcare providers’ actions, “constituting willful or intentional criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm.” EDTPA further clarifies actions in the presence of “resource or staffing shortage” do not constitute willful negligence by providers.

Medical Debt Updates

The New York state budget also contains an important update to the statute of limitations related to the collection of medical debts. Under Section 213-d, any legal action by a “hospital licensed under article 28 of the public health law or a health care professional authorized under title 8 of the education law,” related to a medical debt must be taken within three years. This is a significant reduction from the previous six year period to commence legal action.

Insurance Payment Protections

The state budget includes provisions to protect insurance payouts for New Yorkers. Under amended sections of insurance law, insurance providers may not withhold payment to hospitals based on their failure to meet administrative requirements for emergency services rendered. Provisions also protect from payment denial due to an insurer’s “retrospective review on the basis that such services were not medically necessary.” These protections apply to hospital treatment for coronavirus occurring amidst the “declared state disaster emergency.”

Provisional Medical Credentials

NY’s budget also loosens credentialing requirements for newly licensed physicians or those new to New York state. Any physician employed by a general hospital or other licensed treatment center is may be considered “provisionally credentialed” to participate in the in-network portion of an insurer’s network during the emergency period. This provisional credentialing can be granted upon written receipt by the insurer of the physician’s and hospital’s credential application. A physician may not be be assigned as a primary care physician until fully credentialed by the insurance provider.

The 2020-2021 New York budget offers key legal protections to those healthcare providers working to combat the novel coronavirus. New York is among a number of states passing emergency provisions to shield medical professionals from the inevitable legal onslaught following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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