Emergency Declaration Press Call Remarks by CMS Administrator Seema Verma
(As prepared for delivery – March 13, 2020)
As you know, earlier today, President Trump declared the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation a national emergency. This bold move empowers CMS to waive certain federal requirements in Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP to rapidly expand the Administration’s aggressive efforts against COVID-19 led by the White House Coronavirus Taskforce.
As more communities around the nation begin experiencing community spread, America faces a hard reality: more cases of this virus are coming. This Administration’s travel restrictions – adopted on the urgent recommendation of numerous public health experts – will help slow the rate of growth in the virus and minimize undue burden on the system at any one time. However, it remains vital that our healthcare system be equipped to respond effectively to the additional cases that do arise, that federal requirements designed for periods of relative calm do not hinder measures needed in an emergency.
These temporary blanket waivers – offered to providers, and clinicians across the country – are reserved for the rarest of situations. They represent a massive mobilization of our country’s resources to combat this terrible virus. In a time of emergency, the health system needs maximum flexibility to respond appropriately. That’s exactly what this will accomplish.
Today’s relief measures take effect retroactively to March 1. They have implications across the entire healthcare system. I’d like to walk you through some of them. Our actions allow hospitals to reserve beds for the most severely ill patients by discharging those who are less severely ill to skilled nursing facilities; they bolster hospital capacity in rural areas by removing restrictions on critical access hospitals; and – crucially – they allow healthcare professionals to provide care across state lines more easily. I’ll also flag the expanded use of telehealth, allowing people to communicate with their providers from home and limit the spread of the virus. And this is just the beginning of our work on telehealth – we will have more flexibility coming in the coming days.
In addition, CMS will temporarily suspend certain Medicare enrollment screening requirements including site visits and finger-printing for non-certified Part B suppliers, physicians and non-physician practitioners.
We will also temporarily suspend non-emergency survey inspections, allowing providers to focus on the most current health and safety threats like infectious diseases and abuse.
Under the emergency, states can also seek waivers for Medicaid that allow providers to provide care to other coronavirus patients from other states, streamline provider enrollment requirements, and ease licensing requirements to maximize the medical workforce treating ill patients. We strongly encourage states to take advantage of the broad range of options potentially available through these waivers. Just yesterday, CMS put out FAQ guidance to states that explain more about authorities they will have under an emergency.
The flexibilities we are offering will be a godsend to the providers, clinicians, plans, facilities, on the front lines of this fight. We encourage them to carefully review the broad range of options available to them.
I’d like to pause to say a word about nursing homes, which have been top of mind for the Task Force from the beginning. Later today, CMS will be issuing new guidance, directing nursing homes to temporarily restrict all visitors and nonessential personnel with a few exceptions such as end-of-life situations. We fully appreciate that this measure represents a severe trial for residents of nursing homes and those who love them, but we are doing what we must to protect our vulnerable elderly. Needless to say, the moment we believe these restrictions can be relaxed, we will do so.
This emergency declaration is another bold move from a bold President. His leadership is empowering the White House Coronavirus task force to kick its response into another gear. We are not waiting for this virus to get worse; we are acting today – quickly, decisively, and effectively – to protect the American people