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COVID-19 Patient Surge Leads to Broad CMS Regulatory Changes

By: Nathan Brown | April 1st, 2020

COVID-19 Patient Surge Leads to Broad CMS Regulatory Changes Blog Feature

On March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the implementation of sweeping temporary regulatory changes that are intended to better equip the American healthcare system for dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of patients presenting to hospitals continues to surge, these new rules and waivers of preexisting federal requirements are designed to make sure hospitals and healthcare organizations have the capacity they need to adequately respond.

In our continuing effort to keep our readers informed during the COVID-19 pandemic, this blog will offer a quick summary of the actions and waivers the CMS has announced for aiding clinicians and healthcare workers so they can continue to provide necessary patient care. For an official summary of all new changes, readers should refer to the CMS Fact Sheet. Also, a full list of all current CMS Coronavirus Waivers and Flexibilities can be found here.

“Hospitals Without Walls”

In an effort to expand urgent care capacity nationwide, the CMS has implemented a “Hospitals Without Walls” initiative that allows hospitals and healthcare systems to offers services in locations other than their primary buildings. This waiver also allows doctor-owned hospitals to increase the number of beds in their facilities without being sanctioned.

Additionally, these new CMS guidelines make it possible for hospitals to create testing and screening centers for identification of COVID-19 patients in a safe environment away from current patients. Lastly, Medicare will now pay for lab techs to travel to a beneficiary’s home in order to collect a specimen for COVID-19 testing, thus eliminating the need for potentially infected individuals to travel to a healthcare facility for screening.

Rapid Healthcare Workforce Expansion

A blanket waiver is now in place that allows hospitals to provide improved support and benefits for staff, such as daily meals, laundry service for personal clothing and childcare services while at the hospital or providing patient care. This includes measures to make it easier for providers to enroll in Medicare. It also states that private practice clinicians and trained staff may be available for temporary employment while nonessential medical procedures are suspended during the pandemic.

To help hospitals expand their workforce, medical residents have increased freedom to provide services under the direction of the teaching physician. In addition, teaching physicians are now allowed to provide virtual supervision of residents via audio/video technology.

Paperwork Reduction

To streamline processes and delivery of care, the CMS is temporarily eliminating nonessential paperwork requirements so as to free up more time for clinicians to see patients. For the duration of the pandemic, hospitals are allowed to suspend visitation for patients in COVID-19 isolation, thus reducing the likelihood of spreading the virus. The length of time in which patients must be provided medical records has also been extended, in an effort to reduce the workload of already overwhelmed healthcare administrators.

Promoting Telehealth

In a continuation of the current telehealth initiative, the CMS is expanding telehealth access for Medicare recipients. For patients with COVID-19 that do not require hospitalization, this expansion is intended to make it possible for them to stay isolated in their homes to help prevent spread of the virus. For patients who are not infected with COVID-19, it will enable them to continue receiving care without risking exposure by traveling to medical facilities.

These are uncertain times and everyone in the healthcare industry needs to stay as current as possible on both the temporary and permanent regulatory changes that are occurring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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