The National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) has called on federal regulators to extend the federally declared public health emergency addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency declaration is scheduled to end in July, but the Trump administration has the ability to extend the time period.
Though the pandemic continues unabated, the public health emergency is a legal designation which via a presidential proclamation allows federal agencies to relax or suspend certain regulations while the order is in effect, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
“The hospice and palliative care community continues to provide high quality care to their patients and families during the COVID-19 pandemic as they have through many public health crises over the years. We are grateful to the administration for the support you have offered through flexibilities granted during the Public Health Emergency and are asking HHS to extend the declaration of the Public Health Emergency into the future as we anticipate that the needs of Americans facing COVID-19 will continue to grow in the coming months and possibly longer,” said NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach.
For the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency declaration, hospices are exempt from requiring a registered nurse or other skilled professional to make an annual, onsite supervisory visit for each aide. As with all emergency waivers, hospices will have to resume compliance with these rules after the federal disaster declaration expires.
CMS also modified the requirement mandating that hospice annually assess the skills and competence of all individuals furnishing care, and to provide in-service training and education programs where required, and permitted providers to narrow the scope of their required Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement (QAPI) programs to focus on infection control and adverse events.
The agency indicated that it would allow clinicians to use telehealth to fulfill many face-to-face visit requirements for clinicians to see their patients in inpatient rehabilitation facilities, hospice and home health. During the pandemic, individuals can use commonly available interactive apps with audio and video capabilities to visit with their clinician.
The recent $2.2 trillion CARES Act stimulus package, designed to help the economy and essential industries weather the impact of the pandemic, also contains provisions related to hospice telehealth, including permitting practitioners to recertify patients via telemedicine appointments rather than face-to-face encounters
These flexibilities are set to expire when the federally declared public health emergency expires.