July 23, 2020
HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Thursday officially extended the COVID-19 public health emergency designation for another 90 days.
Significant funding and regulatory relief for hospitals and other healthcare providers are tied to the emergency, which was set to expire on July 25. Lobbyists and healthcare industry players were concerned that the bureaucratic decision could get caught up in political maneuvering and pressured the administration to continue the emergency. HHS officials had repeatedly signaled HHS’ intention to continue the emergency designation, and the agency previously renewed it in April.
The renewal gives the healthcare industry certainty through the fall on several key policies to assist with the COVID-19 response. Some notable policies tied to the public health emergency are the 20% Medicare inpatient add-on payment for COVID-19 patients, increased federal Medicaid matching funds for states, a mandate that insurers cover medically necessary COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing, relaxed telehealth restrictions, and Section 1135 waivers that give providers additional flexibility to respond to COVID-19.
The public health emergency length is also connected to CMS’ adjustments to the Medicare Shared Savings Program for accountable care organizations. The number of months the emergency lasts affects the amount of shared losses an ACO must pay back to CMS.
The public health emergency doesn’t have any bearing on how long providers have to spend their grants from the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund.