On the day that President Biden was sworn into office, the public health emergency (PHE) was set to expire, but the Department of Health & Human Services extended the emergency declaration for another 90 days, to April 20, 2021. This represents the fourth time that PHE was extended since January 31, 2020, when the agency introduced waivers that suspended several federal oversight and reporting requirements.
Although, the PHE authorizes the Secretary to take a variety of discretionary actions to respond to the PHE, HCN has been monitoring two areas: the 1135 waiver and the relaxing of HIPAA standards for use of telemedicine platforms. These actions were critical as providers adapted to telemedicine options and as the reimbursement for these telemedicine visits required adjusting, because the pre-COVID telemedicine reimbursement structure wasn’t sustainable.
The rapid adoption and expansion of telemedicine over the last year was unparalleled, especially in an historically laggard industry. These changes were a direct result of the many emergency orders that occurred during the PHE, but the looming question is this: what happens when the PHE goes away? It is hard to say when this will happen, but the vaccination process is underway and, at some point in 2021, the PHE will fade away. It will be important for all interested parties to keep up the pressure and attention to telemedicine expansion and legislation. As the PHE does fade away, we will keep you posted on any readjustment the federal government decides to take.