Healthcare Reform

HHS Signals Intent to Extend Public Health Emergency Period Through Entirety of 2021

A medical professional wearing a mask using a laptop computer

In a letter to US Governors, Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Norris Cochran announced HHS’s intention to keep the public health emergency (PHE) declaration in place throughout 2021, and the department will give states 60 days’ notice before the declaration is terminated or expires.

The current COVID-19 PHE, first declared in January 2020 by then-HHS Secretary Alex Azar, was most recently renewed on Jan. 7, 2021, by Azar for 90 days before the HHS announcement on the likelihood of PHE remaining in place for all of 2021. 

States have benefitted from flexibilities tied to the public health emergency, including increased accessibility of telehealth, since during this emergency period the secretary can waive or modify certain Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule requirements.

HIMSS and PCHAlliance have supported congressional efforts to make permanent the temporary telehealth waivers and regulatory changes, prompted by the COVID-19 public health emergency, that enabled an unprecedented wave of telehealth use.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was first declared and in-person care was not an option for many patients, particularly the most vulnerable populations, Congress permitted providers to temporarily deliver care through telehealth. Throughout the pandemic, healthcare systems, providers and the federal government have invested time and resources in telehealth to ensure patients can continue to receive necessary care in a safe and effective manner.

RELATED: The History of HIMSS and Telehealth Advocacy

The temporary 6.2 percentage point increase in the Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) is also available until it expires at the end of the quarter in which the public health emergency ends, according to the HHS letter. Governors can also continue to use other emergency authorities, including Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act declarations and emergency use authorizations (EUA) for diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

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