AHA asks for COVID-19 public health emergency to be extended

Dive Brief:

  • The American Hospital Association is asking HHS to extend the public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency, declared at the end of January, is set to expire in five weeks.
  • AHA is requesting the emergency status be continued until multiple criteria are met regarding the availability of necessary supplies for testing and treatment, a threshold of tests performed each day, number of patients requiring intensive care and number of deaths over a two-week period, according to a Friday letter.
  • HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding AHA’s letter, but the hospital lobby is likely to meet resistance as the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to downplay the severity of the pandemic.

Dive Insight:

As states continue with plans to reopen businesses and lift stay-at-home restrictions, many parts of the country report spikes in case numbers. Hospitals have warned they could be at risk of running out of intensive care bed space.

For months CMS has taken multiple steps to help hospitals dealing with or preparing for outbreaks, including waivers to increase telehealth use and give flexibility to providers in value-based payment models. Those actions are usually tied to the duration of the public health emergency.

The declaration also frees up some funding for HHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

AHA said it anticipates the daily challenges its member face as a result of the pandemic will continue for several months and possibly another year.

“While not all areas of the country are seeing large numbers of COVID-19 patients, every hospital and health system is operating in a COVID-19 environment, requiring continued assistance from the federal government,” AHA wrote. “Remarkable progress in combating this pandemic continues to be made and now is not the time to pull back, but rather reinforce the need for a strong response from America’s hospitals and health systems as we work through the coming months.”

William Horton, a partner with Jones Walker, told Healthcare Dive hospitals are looking for breathing room as the country faces an uncertain future and unclear timeline on a vaccine or effective treatment.

“In short, what the hospitals are saying is that they don’t want to have to go back to normal and then snap back into crisis mode when it’s not at all clear that we’re out of the crisis,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position for them to take.”

AHA set four criteria it would like to see met before the emergency is lifted:

  • The supply chain is able to meet demand for personal protective equipment and testing and treatment supplies
  • At least 500,000 tests are given in the U.S. per day and the number of positive tests is no more than 5,000 per day for 14 days
  • The number of patients in ICU beds is fewer than 5,000 per day for 14 days and no more than 10% of those patients are in any one city or region
  • The number of deaths per day is fewer than 500 for 14 days

Hospitals have restarted lucrative elective procedures put off in recent months, but could be forced to curtail those again if outbreaks get too severe. There are also worries that patients could be slow to return to hospitals and doctors’ offices for fear of becoming infected.

Tenet Health reported last week that surgery volumes have almost completely recovered. But Jefferies analysts have noted hospitals in Arizona, where cases are surging, have seen record lows in traffic and Moody’s warned the road back to normal volumes will be slow and uneven.

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