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March 30, 2020

CMS Adopts Temporary Regulatory Waivers and Rules to Manage COVID-19 Patient Surge

March 30, 2020—The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced an array of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules to equip the American health care system with maximum flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the announcement, available here, CMS outlines how these temporary actions will do the following:

  • Increase hospital capacity (CMS Hospitals Without Walls)
  • Rapidly expand the health care workforce
  • Put patients over paperwork
  • Further promote telehealth in medicare

These temporary changes will apply immediately across the United States health care system for the duration of the emergency declaration issued by President Trump on March 13, 2020. This allows hospitals and health systems to deliver services at other locations to make room for COVID-19 patients needing acute care in their main facility.

According to CMS, the changes complement and augment the work of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state and local public health authorities by empowering local hospitals and health care systems to rapidly expand treatment capacity that allows them to separate patients infected with COVID-19 from those who are not affected.

The waivers and flexibilities will permit hospitals and health care systems to expand capacity by triaging patients to a variety of community-based locales, including ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, hotels, and dormitories. Transferring uninfected patients will help hospital staff to focus on the most critical COVID-19 patients, maintain infection control protocols, and conserve personal protective equipment.

CMS will also waive certain requirements to enable and encourage hospitals to hire local physicians and other providers to address potential surges. New rules allow hospitals to support physician practices by transferring critical equipment, including items used for telehealth, as well as providing meals and childcare for their health care workers.

Other temporary CMS waivers and rule changes dramatically lessen administrative burdens, knowing that front line providers will be operating with high volumes and under extraordinary system stresses.

CMS advised that it recently approved hundreds of waiver requests from health care providers, state governments, and state hospital associations in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Missouri, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, California, Washington, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Texas, New Jersey, and North Carolina. With today’s announcement of blanket waivers, other states and providers do not need to apply for these waivers and can begin using the flexibilities immediately.

Additionally, CMS Administrator Seema Verma applauded the pledge by America’s Health Insurance Plans to match CMS’s waivers for Medicare beneficiaries in areas where in-patient capacity is under strain.

Additional background information on the waivers and rule changes is available on the CMS website.

More information on the COVID-19 waivers and guidance and the Interim Final Rule are available on the CMS COVID-19 Flexibilities webpage.

Further updates can be found at the CMS Current Emergencies website and the White House Coronavirus Task Force website.

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