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Feds Ease Off on Specific Health-Related Regulations to Handle COVID-19 Crisis

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

The Trump administration has announced this week several actions it has taken regarding certain healthcare regulations to help expand diagnostic and treatment access during the COVID-19 crisis.

First, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. These beneficiaries will be able to receive more of services without the need for a trip to a medical facility. In turn, CMS will pay clinicians (temporarily) to offer such services to Medicare recipients across the country.

“These changes allow seniors to communicate with their doctors without having to travel to a healthcare facility so that they can limit risk of exposure and spread of this virus,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “Clinicians on the frontlines will now have greater flexibility to safely treat our beneficiaries.”

Second, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it will waive potential penalties for HIPAA violations against healthcare providers who help patients by using everyday communications technologies. OCR listed common video chat platforms such as Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, or Skype as acceptable tools. However, OCR underscored public-facing video communication tools (e.g., Facebook Live, Twitch, TikTok) are not to be used for these purposes.

"We are empowering medical providers to serve patients wherever they are during this national public health emergency," OCR Director Roger Severino said in a statement. "We are especially concerned about reaching those most at risk, including older persons and persons with disabilities."

OCR released detailed documents that contain guidance on these issues for healthcare providers. These include this notice that outlines acceptable telehealth technology tools, along with two special bulletins that contain tips for handling HIPAA during the COVID-19 crisis.

When President Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency on March 13, he did so under the Stafford Act and National Emergencies Act. As part of those acts, the 1135 waiver is what agencies like CMS and HHS use to modify certain regulations as outlined above. In this crisis, Florida was the first state to submit a section 1135 waiver. Click here to read that request and what state leaders were asking for specifically.

There are several current and upcoming issues of various Relias Media publications that include in-depth coverage regarding how COVID-19 is affecting many practice areas. For even more updated breaking news about the pandemic, please keep checking in with