On April 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) announced new measures to support the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures build upon past regulatory changes we have discussed elsewhere (see, for example, here and here), and CMS hopes to achieve five objectives with these measures: (1) expand the healthcare workforce, (2) expand the capacity of hospitals and healthcare systems, (3) expand access to telehealth, (4) expand the testing capacity and (5) reduce the burden of paperwork on practitioners. Below is a summary of just some of the steps taken by CMS to achieve these goals. A full summary of the changes, provided by CMS, can be accessed here.

Expand the Healthcare Workforce

Among other measures CMS:

  • Has waived restrictions on nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, and physician assistants ability to provide home health services;
  • Has waived requirements for ambulatory surgery centers to periodically reappraise medical staff privileges; and
  • Will allow teaching hospitals to maintain their current Medicare Payments while reassigning medical residents to other hospitals based on local needs.

Expand the Capacity of Hospitals

Among other measures CMS:

  • Allows providers the flexibility to increase their bed capacity without jeopardizing their Medicare payments;
  • Allows freestanding inpatient rehabilitation facilities to treat acute-care hospital patients, when an acute-care hospital is experiencing a surge in patients; and
  • Allows certain provider-based hospital outpatient departments that relocate off campus to be reimbursed at higher rates.

Expand Access to Telehealth

Among other measures CMS:

  • Has expanded the types of clinical practitioners that may provider telehealth services to include, among others, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech language pathologists;
  • Has expanded the types of services available to patients via audio-only telephone technology, and will be reimbursed to providers as a telehealth appointment; and
  • Allows for hospitals to bill for telehealth services provided by hospital-based practitioners to Medicare patients who are registered as hospital outpatients, including when the patient is located at home.

Expand Testing Capacity

Among other measures CMS:

  • Will no longer require an order from a treating physician for a COVID-19 test to be covered, instead it may be ordered by any healthcare professional;
  • Is providing the flexibility that will allow pharmacies to establish parking lot testing sites; and
  • Will cover certain antibody tests, which will help to determine who has been infected with COVID-19 in the past.

Reduce the Burden of Paperwork

Among other measures CMS is allowing:

  • Mental health services, that were previously only allowed in a clinic, to be provided in a patient’s home; and
  • Payment for certain inpatient services that are provided in temporary expansion locations, including inside a patient’s home.

CMS has adopted these measures on a temporary basis to address the needs of the healthcare industry in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare providers who are interested in learning more about the specifics of the waivers and how it may affect them, may reach out to Squire Patton Boggs for more information and guidance.