CMS relaxes rules to boost capacity of providers as facilities tackle COVID-19 outbreak

The Trump administration has relaxed rules to enable doctors to remotely care for patients across state lines at rural facilities and let nurse practitioners perform more duties as workforce capacity becomes a major concern.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a series of rules that will be relaxed for the duration of the public health emergency. The agency is trying to remove regulatory burdens facing providers swamped with treating the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s all hands on deck during this crisis,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. “All frontline medical professionals need to be able to work at the highest level they were trained for.”

Workforce capacity has become a persistent issue as hospital staff could become infected with COVID-19.

Here are some of the new flexibilities outlined by CMS:

  • Enables doctors to directly care for patients at rural hospitals remotely via phone, radio or online communication. “Remotely located physicians, coordinating with nurse practitioners at rural facilities, will provide staffs at such facilities additional flexibility to meet the needs of their patients,” the agency said.
  • Gives nurse practitioners the power to perform some exams on Medicare patients at skilled nursing facilities.
  • Enables occupational therapists from home health agencies to perform initial assessments on homebound patients. This change should enable home health services to start sooner and free up “home-health nurses to do more direct patient care,” CMS said.

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The announcement builds on other moves that CMS has made to lower regulatory burdens on providers. The agency has suspended routine surveys of hospitals and pushed back reporting deadlines for various value-based care programs.