Public health emergency extendedNorris Cochran, the acting secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), sent a letter to all state governors declaring that HHS has renewed the public health emergency (PHE) for 90 days, effective Jan. 21, and that the PHE will likely remain in effect for the remainder of 2021. HHS will provide states with 60 days’ rather than the previous administration 30-day notice prior to terminating the declaration.

In the United States, the public health emergency determination allows for regulatory flexibility. Additionally, Cochran noted that, “In light of the PHE extension, you can expect the continued use of other emergency authorities, including… emergency use authorizations (EUA) for diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.”

 Read more about previous HHS COVID-19 public health emergency:

The Acting Secretary stated, “Predictability and stability are important given the foundation and flexibilities offered to states that are tied to the designation of the PHE. Among other things, the PHE determination provides for the ability to streamline and increase the accessibility of healthcare, such as the practice of telemedicine… The goal is to ensure to the maximum extent feasible that, in an emergency area during an emergency period, sufficient health care items and services are available to meet the needs of individuals receiving Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP and that providers that furnish such items and services can be reimbursed for them and exempt from sanctions, absent fraud or abuse.” 

The Public Health Service Act grants HHS broad authority to issue a PHE declaration that remains active for a 90-day period. The letter specifically highlights the flexibilities that the PHE declaration affords to provide telemedicine services to Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries. For state Medicaid programs, this public health emergency extension will also create more budget certainty with an extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) rate increase set to expire at the end of the PHE.

“In light of the PHE extension, you can expect the continued use of other emergency authorities, including Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act declarations and emergency use authorizations (EUA) for diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. The Department will consider the use of any available flexibility to aid states in their response to this PHE,” stated Acting Secretary Cochran. For details, download and read the full letter from the Acting Health & Human Services Secretary.

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