Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra renewed Wednesday the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) for another 90 days, extending with it key waivers and regulatory flexibilities.
The PHE—which has been in place since Jan. 31, 2020—will now run for another 90 days. Becerra has agreed, though, to give stakeholders a 60-day heads-up when the emergency will not be extended again.
Once the PHE ends, so do flexibilities and waivers that have been frozen in place for several years.
There has been clarity, however, on key parts of the PHE such as flexibilities to make it easier for providers to get reimbursed by Medicare for telehealth services. Congress passed a law late last year that extended through 2024 flexibilities such as waivers of originating site requirements.
The extension will give the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services time to determine what flexibilities should become permanent. The law also extended a waiver to keep in place hospital-at-home programs for another two years.
The end-of-year spending package gave key clarity on another part of the PHE: the end of the continuous coverage requirement for Medicaid.
At the start of the pandemic, the federal government boosted the matching rate for Medicaid payments to states, but only if the state would not drop anyone off Medicaid’s rolls for the duration of the PHE. The spending package, however, enabled states to start Medicaid eligibility redeterminations April 1.
The law phases out the 6.2% boost to Medicaid payments for the rest of the year.
It may also be the last time that the PHE gets renewed. A report in Politico earlier this week cited administration officials’ intent to possibly end the PHE this spring.