What Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Renewal Means for Physician Practices

Last Updated: Oct 19, 2021

What Federal COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Renewal Means for Physician Practices: PHE Extended to Jan. 2022

On October 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration for COVID‑19 will be renewed for another 90 days. The renewal of the PHE is effective October 18, 2021 (the date the PHE was previously scheduled to expire). The federal PHE will now extend to January 2022.

Bottomline: This means that those waivers and flexibilities issued on a federal level will continue to be in effect. For physician practices, this includes federal waivers such as those related to Medicare, CHIP, and HIPAA.

The Details:

There have been a number of waivers and other measures linked to the PHE issued by HHS and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), such as:

  • Flexibility for Medicare Telehealth Services: Several waivers have been issued by HHS and CMS to allow for greater flexibility in the provision of services through telehealth. For example, a waiver has been issued of the regulation which specifies practitioners who can bill for their services when furnished as Medicare telehealth services from the distant site.

  • Practitioner Locations: CMS has also temporarily waived requirements that out-of-state practitioners be licensed in the state where they are providing services when they are licensed in another state. Note this waiver is mainly relevant to Medicare and Medicaid participation and reimbursement. This waiver does not have the effect of waiving state or local licensure requirements or any requirement specified by the state or a local government as a condition for waiving its licensure requirements. State licensure requirements still apply.

  • Verbal Orders: CMS has waived the requirements related to verbal orders where read-back verification is required, but authentication may occur later than 48 hours.

  • Substitute Billing Arrangements: CMS has modified the 60-day limit of the Social Security Act to allow a physician or physical therapist to use the same substitute for the entire time he or she is unavailable to provide services during the COVID-19 emergency plus an additional period of no more than 60 continuous days after the public health emergency expires.

What about waivers issued at the state level? The renewal of the federal PHE has no effect on the various regulatory waivers and suspensions issued within Pennsylvania by Gov. Wolf. Pursuant to Act 73 of 2021, State issued waivers and suspensions are set to expire March 31, 2022. More information on this expiration date can be found here.

Additional Information

For additional information on and a more extensive listing of HHS and CMS COVID-19 waivers and flexibilities, please see the following resources:

President Biden’s Administration has previously indicated that it expects to continue renewing the COVID-19 PHE until at least the end of 2021. It now appears that the PHE will extend into 2022. The Administration has also indicated that it will give states at least a 60-day notice before the end of the PHE renewals. 

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