Reacting quickly to a joint request by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) (collectively, the Health Agencies) last Thursday, the FCC released a Public Notice on May 3, 2022, inviting comments about how it should clarify “that certain automated calls and text messages or prerecorded voice calls relating to enrollment in state Medicaid and other governmental health coverage programs are permissible under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).” Recognizing the time-sensitive nature of the Health Agencies’ request, the FCC established a short cycle for public comment – comments are due in 14 days on May 17, 2022, and any reply comments are due on May 24, 2022.
The FCC in 2016 determined that the federal government was not a “person” subject to the TCPA, and that by extension, federal contractors working within the scope of their delegated authority were also not bound by TCPA restrictions. This Broadnet Declaratory Ruling was the subject of at least one prominent dissent. At the time, then-Commissioner Ajit Pai observed: “[I]t is odd to suggest that a contractor’s status as a ‘person’ could switch on or off depending on one’s behavior or relationship with the federal government.” The National Consumer Law Center and Professional Services Council both filed petitions for reconsideration and this issue was again joined on December 14, 2020, when the FCC issued a Reconsideration Order stating that government contractors – but not federal or state governments themselves – “must obtain prior express consent to call consumers” when making calls on behalf of the government.
The 2016 amendments to the TCPA—which created an exemption for calls that are made “solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States”—have inadvertently reshaped the way that TCPA claims are litigated. While early decisions in Indiana, Alabama, and Florida rejected claims under the FCC’s proposed implementing rules because they never became effective, more recent decisions have focused on whether the exemption, and by extension the entire statute, violates the First Amendment. The first of those was the Fourth Circuit’s decision in American Association of Political Consultants v. FCC, which was soon followed by the Ninth Circuit and the Southern District of Florida.
On August 11, 2016, the FCC released a Report and Order implementing Section 301 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (the “Budget Act”), which exempts autodialed and prerecorded calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” from the TCPA’s prior express consent requirement. The Budget Act provision also authorizes the FCC to adopt rules to “restrict or limit the number and duration” of any wireless calls made to collect debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. Continue reading
The FCC recently issued a declaratory ruling addressing petitions that had been filed by Broadnet Teleservices LLC (“Broadnet”), National Employment Network Association (“NENA”), and RTI International (“RTI”), each of which sought guidance or clarification on the extent of the TCPA’s governmental exception when a contractor is placing calls or texts pursuant to its work on behalf of the government. Each of the petitioners provide, or have members that provide, calling services on behalf of federal government entities; Broadnet offers teletown hall calling services for state and local governments as well and RTI performs social science survey work for entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NENA represents providers of employment services to beneficiaries of Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. These providers are required to contact program-eligible beneficiaries to provide information about potential programs and services.