WASHINGTON—The COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will end May 11, and with it a range of waivers and regulatory changes that have benefited the homecare industry.

The announcement came as part of a White House statement issued Monday in response to two House bills that would have immediately ended the PHE and separate COVID-19 emergency declaration. Instead, the Biden administration said it was planning to wind down to the May 11 date.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system—for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House statement reads. “During the PHE, the Medicaid program has operated under special rules to provide extra funding to states to ensure that tens of millions of vulnerable Americans kept their Medicaid coverage during a global pandemic.”

The White House also said that health care providers who have relied on PHE-enabled flexibiliites would be “plunged into chaos without adequate time to retrain staff and establish new billing processes.”

Those in the homecare industry have been watching PHE developments closely for just this reason—and after the announcement were relieved that one priority for home medical equipment (HME) was already taken care of.

The announcement of the end date for the PHE underscores the importance of last December’s Omnibus legislation provisions extending 75/25 blended rates for suppliers in non-rural/non-competitive bid areas (CBAs) until the end of 2023,” the American Association of Homecare (AAHomecare) wrote in a statement. “Now the HME community can focus on advocacy for further extending the 75/25 rates beyond 2023, as well as increasing Medicare reimbursements for suppliers in former CBAs.”

Other HME priorities include working to maintain access for oxygen and continuous glucose monitor patients who qualified for those products under PHE coverage guidelines.

The omnibus bill also extended telehealth benefits at home through 2024—although in-home care providers still cannot bill for digital visits as they can in-person visits—and allowed home health agencies to meet the initial face-to-face physician/practitioner visit virtually. 

"Action has been taken on two very important flexibilities that had been permitted with the PHE that will not be lost," said Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Homecare and Hospice. 

In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services made permanent a waiver allowing home health agencies to conduct virtual visits provided there is appropriate authorization from the physician or practitioner. And, Dombi said, "CMS needs to consider what other flexibilities that emerged with the PHE can be made permanent, particularly several administrative, supervisory parts of the Conditions of Participation."