HHS Renews Public Health Emergency Declaration

The federal government last week officially renewed the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which was originally issued on January 31 and renewed on April 21.

The renewal was announced via Twitter by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar. Public health emergencies last for the duration of the emergency or 90 days, and can be extended by the Secretary, according to the government.

The renewal extends the waivers and flexibilities HHS has issued to respond to COVID-19, a July 24 client alert from the law firm Arnall Golden Gregory noted — and providers have used these heavily.

“Nonetheless, the declaration will not extend indefinitely, so providers should keep one eye to the future and be aware of how changes implemented to respond to COVID-19 will have to be reverted once the flexibilities terminate,” the alert said.

These waivers and flexibilities include a slew of Medicaid waivers and many others aimed at a variety of health care sectors. The Medicaid waivers covered a range of actions designed to make it easier for Medicaid providers in various states to respond to COVID-19, such as eliminating prior authorization requirements to the potential provision of care at unlicensed facilities.

For the duration of the emergency, skilled nursing providers were granted a raft of waivers related to caring for COVID-19 patients, including waivers related to the certification of non-skilled nursing facilities to be used as emergency COVID-19 care sites, certain training and certification requirements for nurse aides and reimbursement for lab companies performing tests at skilled nursing facilities.