The healthcare industry is extremely nervous that the COVID-19 public health emergency could go away in July, as a collection of major groups press federal leaders for more time.
Several groups such as the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association wrote to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday pressing for another renewal of the PHE, which is expected to expire in July.
Becerra extended the PHE until July 16 but has promised to give stakeholders a 60-day heads-up if it will not be pushed back again. That deadline for a 60-day notice will occur May 16, underscoring the concerns from the industry groups that the PHE could go away.
“We urge the Administration to maintain the PHE until we experience an extended period of greater stability and, guided by science and data, can safely unwind the resulting flexibilities,” according to the letter.
States, payers and providers have been bracing for the end of the emergency for months. A key provision in the PHE was a 6.2% increase in federal Medicaid matching funds but came with a requirement that states could not drop anyone off coverage rolls for the duration of the emergency.
Payers and states have been working on how to redetermine eligibility for Medicaid populations. The Biden administration has given states up to 14 months to complete redeterminations, but states have asked for a long lead time before the PHE ends.
Providers have also enjoyed major flexibilities for Medicare reimbursement for telehealth and the removal of regulatory barriers to telehealth such as waiving of originating site requirements.
The Biden administration has promised to make some of the flexibilities for telehealth permanent, but some of them require action by Congress.
Becerra has previously said that science will guide a decision on the emergency but has demurred from giving stakeholders more than a 60-day notice of the PHE’s demise.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a rise in daily case counts over the past two weeks, reaching a seven-day average of 66,564 as of May 8. Hospitals have also increased from a low of 1,426 daily admissions across a seven-day average to 2,400 late last week.
The groups warn that the protections granted by the emergency are still needed, especially as more variants could pop up and strain hospital and health systems.
“We urge the Administration to maintain the PHE until we experience an extended period of greater stability and, guided by science and data, can safely unwind the resulting flexibilities,” the groups wrote.