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Arlington, VA – A coalition of 36 groups led by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) today urged Congress to lock in several of the lifesaving waivers issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The coalition is calling on members to cement temporary changes to telehealth, professional medical licensing, physician supervision and patient privacy.
“This crisis has exposed a tragic reality: America’s health care system often prevents doctors, nurses, and medical researchers from helping people,” the letter reads. “It is magnifying the harms of well-meaning but misguided policies that until now had remained largely unseen, but which led to critical shortages of health care professionals, medical equipment, and other necessities.”
“Cementing policies that are saving lives should be a top priority for Congress,” said AFP Government Affairs Coalitions Director Ted Ellis. “I’ve been encouraged by the conversations we’ve had with groups across the nation who recognize that these short-term waivers have the potential not just to save lives in this crisis, but in the next one too. This coalition is standing together to encourage Congress to make these changes permanent because lives depend on it.”
The organizations outlined 4 key waivers that should remain in place:
Telehealth. Under the administration’s emergency waivers, Medicare can pay for office, hospital, and other visits furnished via telehealth across the country for all beneficiaries. It also allows providers to forward videos and images to other doctors, known as “store and forward.” Telehealth has proven very popular with Medicare beneficiaries, with one CMS data analyst reporting telehealth visits for Medicare beneficiaries went from about 10,000 a week to 300,000 as of the last week in March.
Professional Licensing. In response to hospitals in hard hit areas resorting to retirees and medical students to fill gaps, CMS relaxed a variety of guidelines regulating how physicians, nurse practitioners, and occupational therapists can do their jobs. Under the relaxed guidance, clinicians can now practice at the top of their licenses and across state lines. automatic licensing recognition would be a godsend for patients and could help to ease local physician and nurse shortages.
Physician Supervision. Cutting out non-essential physician supervision and signoff requirements – for example, a requirement that mandates that a physician (as opposed to a nurse or physician assistant) must physically order home health services, sign the patient’s plan of care, and/or re-certify that the patient is eligible for services – can be counterproductive in a critical situation like a viral pandemic.
Patient Privacy. The Department of Health and Human Services’ current policy allows for more software platforms to be used in provider-patient communication (e.g. Skype and FaceTime), which would be otherwise prohibited by HIPAA. This is helping more patients get access to effective tracing, testing, and treatment.