The CMS issued guidance this week allowing independently owned freestanding emergency departments to temporarily participate in Medicare and Medicaid.
The guidance is a way to expand capacity for hospital services as providers see an influx of patients with COVID-19, the agency said in a press release.
"Expanding the number of providers available to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries eases some of the burden shouldered by traditional hospitals and allows the healthcare system to treat more patients at a time when capacity is often limited," said CMS Administrator Seema Verma in a statement. "We must leave no stone unturned as we seek to bolster the healthcare system during this unprecedented crisis."
The guidance is specific to freestanding EDs that aren't affiliated with hospitals. Only four states — Colorado, Delaware, Rhode Island and Texas — license these kind of freestanding EDs. Health systems that own these EDs, which are called hospital outpatient departments, can already bill Medicare and Medicaid. There were about 200 independently owned freestanding EDs in the U.S. in 2016.
"The freestanding ER community has advocated to be able to serve Medicare and Medicaid patients for more than a decade and we're thrilled to finally be able to provide them with timely access to emergency medicine," Brad Shields, executive director of the National Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers, said in a statement.
While the guidance is temporary, the association said it will continue to push for a "long-term solution."
Regulations vary greatly by states regarding what staffing and clinical services a freestanding ED can offer but it's usually imaging and lab services rather than trauma care.
In order to accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, the CMS said independently owned freestanding EDs have three options: receive state approval to operate as a hospital outpatient department; enroll as a Medicaid clinic or be temporarily enrolled as a hospital under Medicare.