George B. Breen, Member of the Firm in the Health Care & Life Sciences and Litigation practices and Chair of the firm’s National Health Care & Life Sciences Practice Steering Committee, in the firm’s Washington, DC, office, was quoted in Law360, in “The Defining Pandemic Moments for Health and Life Sci Attys,” by Jeff Overley. (Read the full version – subscription required.)
Following is an excerpt:
The coronavirus pandemic's first year tested America's health care and life sciences systems in unprecedented ways and set the stage for profound and lasting changes. Here, attorneys share the moments and lessons that stand out — and what they'll be watching as the pandemic enters its second year.
Law360 solicited recollections from attorneys who advise health care providers, drug companies, health insurers and medical device makers in numerous legal areas that became both more prominent and more complex amid COVID-19. Those areas include enforcement, reimbursement, mergers and acquisitions, product approvals and manufacturing. …
The gravity of what was happening dawned on different lawyers in different ways. …
George B. Breen, chair of Epstein Becker Green's health and life sciences steering committee, had his moment of truth on March 16, when the U.S. Supreme Court postponed scheduled argument sessions for the first time since the 1918 influenza pandemic.
"That, to me, is when the reality of the situation truly set in," Breen recalled.
The same day saw an unsettling new reality sink in elsewhere. Many office buildings were empty. So were grocery store shelves. So was Times Square.
As much of America hunkered down, a public health plan was shaping up. On March 16 alone, the White House told Americans to avoid large gatherings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlined "unprecedented" leeway for unapproved coronavirus tests, and the National Institutes of Health quietly announced an early clinical trial for a Moderna Inc. vaccine candidate that would eventually prove to be remarkably effective. …
By May, pandemic enforcement priorities had become crystal clear. Attorneys were forecasting a wave of False Claims Act investigations tied to pandemic relief dollars. The DOJ had established a task force on pandemic profiteering and charged people for allegedly hoarding enormous quantities of PPE, such as gloves, surgical gowns and N95 masks. …
At the same time, the pandemic's restrictions on large gatherings also meant that health fraud cases — like most other cases — were being litigated through Zoom and other digital platforms.
"As of May, I was participating in videotaped depositions as a matter of routine," Breen, the Epstein Becker attorney, recalled. "Mediations by videoconference became the rule rather than the exception." …
The Present and Beyond
Optimism has been rising that the U.S. is close to extinguishing the threat of the novel coronavirus and its known variants. More than 10% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and average daily cases have plummeted by 75% and deaths by 50% from their January peaks.
With brighter days on the horizon, attorneys are starting to peer ahead and envision what a post-pandemic future might look like. It's possible that the new normal will resemble the old normal, but be a bit better because of the lessons of the past year.
Some health care litigators, for example, miss being face-to-face with judges and witnesses. They say the switch to courtroom from "courtZoom" can't come soon enough, even if they acknowledge that some of the videoconferencing should probably stick around.
"You're going to have to always have the skill to do the remote situation, because I think that's going to continue [in] some form," said Breen of Epstein Becker. "But I'm ready to go back."
Lawyers who focus on health care delivery are getting back to advising traditional clients on traditional issues, but with new expectations for what's achievable.