HHS on Thursday extended its COVID-19 public health emergency declaration, which is attached to increased funding for healthcare providers and regulatory flexibilities.
The declaration was set to expire on Jan. 20, the day when President-elect Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated. The renewal takes effect on Jan. 21 and extends for 90 days. The renewal eliminates the risk of a lapse as the new administration takes over.
"Our work to combat the virus will continue, as will our work to ensure a peaceful and orderly transition," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a tweet announcing the renewal.
Significant anxiety swirled around whether the Trump administration would renew the declaration in summer 2020, but public health experts expect the Biden administration to be more aggressive with the federal COVID-19 response and more likely to continue renewing the designation.
Some notable policies tied to the public health emergency are the Medicare inpatient 20% add-on payment for COVID-19 patients, increased federal Medicaid matching rates and maintenance of effort requirements, requirements that insurers cover COVID-19 testing without cost-sharing and waivers of telehealth restrictions.
Adjustments CMS made to the Medicare Shared Savings Program for accountable care organizations are also connected to the length of the public health emergency. The number of months the emergency lasts affects the amount of shared losses an ACO must pay back to CMS.
Congress also conditioned increased Medicaid funds on states covering vaccines without cost-sharing for enrollees, but that requirement expires with the public health emergency.
Providers had the issue on their policy radar for the Biden transition, and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living wrote to HHS on Dec. 28 asking the agency to extend the declaration.