Senate narrowly votes to get rid of COVID-19 national emergency

The Senate narrowly passed a resolution to get rid of the COVID-19 national emergency that has given providers increased flexibility on telehealth.

The resolution that passed 48-47 Thursday garnered a veto threat from the White House and may not pass the House. However, the narrow vote underscores political pressure the Biden administration could face to unwind pandemic-related emergencies, including the public health emergency (PHE) that expires next month and is not affected by the resolution.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, sponsored the resolution and said on the Senate floor that the “robust powers this emergency declaration provides the federal government are no longer necessary and Congress must debate and ultimately repeal them to unwind the powers the government took hold of at the peak of the crisis.”

Last month, Biden extended the national emergency indefinitely before its March 1 expiration date. The emergency has enabled waivers to providers to expand the use of telehealth and other flexibilities for hospitals and providers. 

The White House said in a statement Thursday that cutting off the national emergency abruptly would “unnecessarily and abruptly curtail the ability of the administration to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It added that the authorities are critical to continue responding to the omicron variant and “respond to potential future variants.”

Despite the White House veto threat, the resolution’s passage underscores political pressure the administration is facing to unwind pandemic emergencies. 

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for it to start a glidepath to unwind the PHE that gave providers more flexibility to get Medicare reimbursement for telehealth. The PHE was extended by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra until April, but the department said it would give stakeholders a 60-day heads-up before it expires.