The healthcare industry likely has until this fall to face the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) as a key deadline came and went with no notice Monday.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promised to give states a 60-day notice when the PHE will end, giving a vital heads-up for when a slew of regulatory flexibilities that have been in place for more than two years will go away. The current PHE will run until July 16, and HHS did not provide any notice that it won’t be extended again for another 90 days.
The decision to not give a 60-day notice comes after an intense lobbying effort from healthcare providers that are worried about the flexibilities of the PHE going away amid a potential new surge of COVID-19.
“The risk from COVID-19 variants remains, and case rates are currently rising across the country,” said the letter from 16 health groups to HHS leadership dated May 10. “Throughout the pandemic, we have painfully learned that the rapid global spread of new variants has resulted in significantly increased transmission rates and infections in the U.S.”
Some health groups and state Medicaid officials have asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to give them more than a 60-day notice of the PHE going away. A key reason is that states agreed to get a 6.2% increase in federal Medicaid matching funds in exchange for not dropping anyone off Medicaid for the duration of the PHE. Once the PHE ends, states will have up to 14 months to fully redetermine whether Medicaid beneficiaries are still eligible.
Becerra has shot down giving more notice, previously saying the PHE can only be extended for 90 days at a time. Becerra has also said that any decision on the PHE will be made via the science.
The PHE brought a series of major regulatory flexibilities that could go away once it expires, chief among them in telehealth. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services temporarily removed barriers that include originating site requirements and audio-only restrictions for telehealth services, enabling providers to get reimbursement from Medicare for the new technology.
The flexibilities, however, only last through the PHE. Several bills introduced this session aim to offer to extend the telehealth flexibilities for several months past the PHE to determine what should be made permanent.