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COVID-19 Update: National Emergency, Community Guidance, Coverage

President Trump on March 13 declared a national emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This declaration allows the Department of Health and Human Services, pursuant to Section 1135 of the Social Security Act, to temporarily waive or modify certain requirements of the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance programs and of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rules.

As of March 16, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 3,487 cases of COVID-19 and 68 related deaths in the United States.

Community Guidance

To slow community spread, CDC on March 15 recommended organizers cancel or postpone gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks. This restriction does not apply to day-to-day operation of organizations, such as schools, higher education institutions, or businesses. The agency also released mitigation strategies for community transmission, which includes a list of underlying medical conditions that might increase the risk of COVID-19.

Complying with EMTALA Requirements

In a memo to state survey agency directors, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) responds to hospital concerns about complying with Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requirements amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under EMTALA, every hospital or critical access hospital with a dedicated emergency department (ED) must screen all individuals who come to the ED, including individuals who are suspected of having COVID-19. When determining their capacity to accept patient transfers, hospitals must use CDC guidance to evaluate their capacity to isolate and stabilize patients with COVID-19.

Notably, the memo allows hospitals to set up alternative screening sites on campus for individuals who do not need immediate treatment in the ED. Hospitals also may screen for influenza-like illnesses at off-campus, hospital-controlled sites, but a hospital may not tell individuals who come to its ED to go to the off-site location for the screening.

Updated Supply Shortage, Infection Control Guidance

CMS issued guidance for industrial respirator use amid supply shortages. Health care providers should prioritize respirators for procedures likely to generate respiratory aerosol and use face masks if needed.

CDC released updated infection control guidance for health care providers and specific guidance for home health providers, nursing homes, and home health agencies.

Coverage and Benefits

CMS issued a frequently asked questions (FAQs) document about Medicare coverage for diagnostic services, physician  services, ambulance services, and facilities accepting government resources. The agency also issued FAQs about Essential Health Benefit coverage for COVID-19.

Visit the America’s Essential Hospitals coronavirus resource page for more information about the outbreak.

Contact Senior Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at eomalley@essentialhospitals.org or 202.585.0127 with questions.

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About the Author

Emily Schweich is a senior communications associate for America's Essential Hospitals.

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