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COVID public health emergency to end May 11

The Biden administration has announced its intention to end the U.S. COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on May 11, 2023. In place since Jan. 31, 2020, the PHE has allowed numerous flexibilities within the Medicare program that will need to be either extended or wound down. 

The announcement came late January 30 in a Statement of Administration Policy issued by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in explicit response to a pair of bills proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, which acquired Republican leadership this month, meant to end the PHE sooner.

The last re-up on the PHE was Jan. 11, which would bring it up for renewal on April 11. The expected announcement appears to fulfill the administration’s promise to give 60 days notice before ending the PHE (PBN 3/1/21). The national emergency was set for renewal on March 1.

The administration also criticized the House bills, saying their approach to ending the emergency would create “chaos.”

“Ending these emergency declarations in the manner contemplated by H.R. 382 and H.J. Res. 7 would have two highly significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operations,” OMB said. “First, an abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans.”

OMB added that ending the PHE suddenly would as suddenly “end the Title 42 policy at the border” – a contentious immigration measure which Republicans support.

“Finally,” OMB said, “millions of patients, including many of our nation’s veterans, who rely on telehealth would suddenly be unable to access critical clinical services and medications.”

Flexibilities built into Medicare telehealth services for the pandemic were extended in the recent Physician Fee Schedule final rule for 151 days after the end of the PHE, which would under the new plan have meant a mid-October cutoff – but the omnibus bill passed at the end of 2022 extended them through 2024 (PBN 1/9/23).
However, other allowances, such as audio-only pay rates and compliance rules, may end far sooner than that.

Check back for more on this story as it develops.
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