HHS roadmap says some flexibilities won’t be affected, but AAFP wants assurances in policies to avoid disruptions for doctors, patients.
As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down in government policy, there’s much to be done to ensure physicians keep their doors open and patients have adequate access to health care.
President Joe Biden announced the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and declaration of national emergency will end on May 11. Federal regulators still need to address a number of potential policy changes that could affect primary care in coming months and year, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
“Given that many of these policy changes have been in place for nearly three years and, in some cases, have significantly altered the health care coverage and delivery landscape, transitioning away from the federal FHE could cause considerable disruptions to physicians and patients,” said the Feb. 14 letter from AAFP Board Chairman Sterling N. Ransone Jr., MD, FAAFP. The organization called on the president’s administration “to publish a comprehensive plan for unwinding the flexibilities and waiver authorities available the PHE, as well as use its authority to minimize disruption.”
AAFP’s current eight-page letter had recommendations for at least six areas that will affect primary care across the country:
The AAFP letter follows the Feb. 9 publication, “Fact Sheet: COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Transition Roadmap,” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Generally, COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, emergency use authorizations for them, and Medicare and Medicaid telehealth flexibilities will not be affected.
HHS acknowledged some Medicare and Medicaid waivers and broad flexibilities for health care providers will end on May 11 or up to six months later. Coverage for COVID-19 testing, reporting requirements for laboratory results and immunizations, policies that affect clinical practice and supply chains, and some liability immunity thorugh the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, all will change.
The ability to dispense controlled substances will change when the PHE ends, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will make rules to extend those “flexibilities under certain circumstances without any gap in care,” with information coming soon.
For months, physicians and government regulators have floated questions and proposals about the end of the COVID-19 PHE. In June 2022, AAFP suggested creating a national plan, and in August last year, CMS leaders published “Creating a Roadmap for the End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”