News from the FDA/CDC

New challenge for docs: End of COVID federal public health emergency


Physicians nationwide will be challenged by the “unwinding” of the federal public health emergency declared for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden administration intends to end by May 11 certain COVID-19 emergency measures used to aid in the response to the pandemic, while many others will remain in place.

A separate declaration covers the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for COVID medicines and tests. That would not be affected by the May 11 deadline, the FDA said. In addition, Congress and state lawmakers have extended some COVID response measures.

The result is a patchwork of emergency COVID-19 measures with different end dates.

The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) are assessing how best to advise their members about the end of the public health emergency.

Several waivers regarding copays and coverage and policies regarding controlled substances will expire, Claire Ernst, director of government affairs at the Medical Group Management Association, told this news organization.

The impact of the unwinding “will vary based on some factors, such as what state the practice resides in,” Ms. Ernst said. “Fortunately, Congress provided some predictability for practices by extending many of the telehealth waivers through the end of 2024.”

The AAFP told this news organization that it has joined several other groups in calling for the release of proposed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulations meant to permanently allow prescriptions of buprenorphine treatment for opioid use disorder via telehealth. The AAFP and other groups want to review these proposals and, if needed, urge the DEA to modify or finalize before there are any disruptions in access to medications for opioid use disorder.

Patients’ questions

Clinicians can expect to field patients’ questions about their insurance coverage and what they need to pay, said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association (AHA).

“Your doctor’s office, that clinic you typically get care at, that is the face of medicine to you,” Ms. Foster told this news organization. “Many doctors and their staff will be asked, ‘What’s happening with Medicaid?’ ‘What about my Medicare coverage?’ ‘Can I still access care in the same way that I did before?’ ”

Physicians will need to be ready to answers those question, or point patients to where they can get answers, Ms. Foster said.

For example, Medicaid will no longer cover postpartum care for some enrollees after giving birth, said Taylor Platt, health policy manager for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The federal response to the pandemic created “a de facto postpartum coverage extension for Medicaid enrollees,” which will be lost in some states, Ms. Platt told this news organization. However, 28 states and the District of Columbia have taken separate measures to extend postpartum coverage to 1 year.

“This coverage has been critical for postpartum individuals to address health needs like substance use and mental health treatment and chronic conditions,” Ms. Platt said.

States significantly changed Medicaid policy to expand access to care during the pandemic.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia, for example, expanded coverage or access to telehealth services in Medicaid during the pandemic, according to a Jan. 31 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). These expansions expire under various deadlines, although most states have made or are planning to make some Medicaid telehealth flexibilities permanent, KFF said.

The KFF report notes that all states and the District of Columbia temporarily waived some aspects of state licensure requirements, so that clinicians with equivalent licenses in other states could practice via telehealth.

In some states, these waivers are still active and are tied to the end of the federal emergency declaration. In others, they expired, with some states allowing for long-term or permanent interstate telemedicine, KFF said. (The Federation of State Medical Boards has a detailed summary of these modifications.)


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