HHS expands COVID-19 public health emergency until April, preserving key telehealth flexibilities

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Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar extended the COVID-19 public health emergency that was set to expire later this month. (Getty Images/Naeblys)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has extended the public health emergency surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic until April, extending key waivers for regulations on a variety of topics such as telehealth.

The public health emergency declaration was originally scheduled to expire Jan. 21. HHS Secretary Alex Azar extended the emergency Thursday, according to a notice.

This is the fourth time HHS has expanded the emergency, with the last one occurring in October.

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The emergency, first installed Jan. 31, 2020, launched a series of blanket waivers that suspended several federal oversight and reporting requirements.

One of the biggest areas of flexibility is under telehealth coverage. The agency was able to waive some requirements. For instance, under the emergency, HHS has allowed more types of providers to bill Medicare for telehealth services, such as physical therapists and others.

It also granted waivers for the reimbursement of audio-only telehealth services for all providers.

The agency waived certain reporting requirements for hospitals in the intensive care unit and other areas to help hospitals that have been swamped with fighting the virus.