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COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Extended

COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Extended Until October

In an announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex M. Azar II on July 25, 2020, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) has officially been extended until October of this year. 

As a result of the continued consequences of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, do hereby renew, effective July 25, 2020, my January 31, 2020, determination that I previously renewed on April 21, 2020, that a public health emergency exists and has existed since January 27, 2020, nationwide.

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency extension temporarily ensures that the flexibilities will remain in place for various telehealth waivers, including sanctions and penalties for non- compliance with HIPAA regulations. The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act both allowed Secretary Azar to waive various telehealth requirements as they relate to Medicare beneficiaries.

All providers may consider the continuation of these telehealth services:

1) Audio-only sessions (telephone)

2) Telephone in opioid treatment 

3) eVisits: non-face-to-face visits via an online portal

4) Group psychotherapy

For Medicare, in particular, these services can continue to be offered to both new and existing patients wherever they are located. In some states, additional limitations may be imposed. It is wise to check with all local authorities and licensing boards before entering into foreign states, and to get their information in writing or to ask for legal code sections by telephone and research them to confirm telephone-based information.  

Waiving Telehealth Co-Pays

Medicare Co-Pays. Telehealth co-pays have gotten confusing for many practitioners. Clinicians may waive Medicare telehealth co-pays, but it may be worthy to note that a waived telehealth co-pay will not be reimbursed by Medicare. In other words, clinicians can forgo collecting a co-payment from a client or patient if they choose, but the telehealth co-payment will come from their own pockets.
 
Private Insurer Co-Pays. It is also noteworthy that many private insurers follow the guidelines set out by Medicare. Currently, some private insurers are not requiring a client or patient to pay copays for telehealth and unlike with Medicare, many providers are getting reimbursed by insurers.  As always, clinicians should check directly with their private payers to confirm which rules will endure through October.  

Other Extension Issues

The reader may want to stay abreast of the status of the COVID-19 public health emergency and any Administrative or Congressional changes to rules that are made during the PHE. For recent Congressional trends to continue telehealth reimbursement after COVID, see  US Congress Meets to Discuss Telehealth after COVID. Other ways to stay informed include registering for TBHI’s Free email newsletter to stay informed of other legislative changes, or viewing TBHI’s free 1-hour, COVID telehealth best practices training on demand.

After the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

The current pandemic offers many challenges, not the least of which is one’s future service delivery as a clinician. TBHI offers the following resources for those professionals and their agencies currently considering options:

  • Telehealth Model. Professionals seeking to offer telehealth services after October may want to learn evidence-based models for competencies related to the wide range of legal and ethical compliance issues. Such clinicians and their groups may be interested in either professional training of either individual telehealth courses or a learning path leading to certification to continue telehealth services after the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Hybrid Model. Developing a hybrid model of serving current clients and patients in the usual brick-and-mortar setting, but getting needed training and migrating one’s practice online to whatever degree is desirable.
  • Traditional Model. Some clinicians are eager to return to their traditional methods of service delivery. For a variety of suggestions related to returning to a brick and mortar office after the COVID-19 public health emergency, see Checklist for Getting Back to the Office after COVID-19.

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