Health systems seek to make temporary COVID-19 flexibilities permanent
Wisconsin hospitals are asking that the federal government consider making temporary COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities, especially those that helped expand telehealth, permanent.
Bellin Health CEO Chris Woleske said they asked Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar about making the waivers permanent during his visit to Green Bay last month.
Woleske said that keeping flexibility around licensing, emergency rooms and record keeping requirements beyond the pandemic would also be helpful. She said the waivers have played a vital role in meeting the needs of patients.
Eric Borgerding, Wisconsin Hospital Association CEO, said that they’ll advocate at both state and federal levels to make recent flexibilities permanent.
“The pandemic has shown that providers and patients have embraced the technology – utilization of telehealth has exploded since March,” he said in a statement. “Some healthcare systems have measured patient and provider satisfaction with telehealth visits and the reviews are consistently very positive.”
WHA supports permanent changes for other pandemic-related flexibilities, including allowing out-of-state healthcare providers to practice in Wisconsin.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was among a bipartisan group of 38 senators who sent a letter last week to Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma asking for a plan and timeline for making the telehealth flexibilities permanent.
Congress, through its COVID-19 relief packages, provided HHS with the authority to waive telehealth requirements for the length of the federal public health emergency. The senators said they’ve heard from patients concerned the rules will be rolled back.
“Telehealth has been a lifeline to patients and providers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.
A CMS spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the flexibilities granted during the emergency and determining what it can do under its regulatory authority once the emergency finishes.
The spokesperson said telehealth has been a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19.
The agency has in the past few months expanded telehealth aggressively, allowing for the use of virtual emergency room visits, letting doctors supervise clinical staff remotely and eliminating requirements that some visits be face to face. That’s led to a significant increase in visits, the spokesperson noted.
“CMS Administrator Verma believes it is crystal clear that we need to continue to harness the power of telehealth,” they wrote. “Factors such as reimbursement and how we determine which telehealth services work best are going to continue to evolve.”