HHS extends COVID-19 public health emergency to April 

HHS has extended the COVID-19 public health emergency until April 11.

"The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration," an agency spokesperson told CNBC.

HHS has renewed the PHE every 90 days since January 2020. Politico reported Jan. 10 it could be the last renewal, but the administration may still issue additional short-term extensions as needed. 

"The decision to terminate the COVID [public health emergency] will be made by the HHS Secretary based on the best available data and science. Any suggestion that a specific end date has been established is untrue," an HHS spokesperson told The Hill.

The 12th and latest renewal comes as the U.S. faces a double-digit increase in hospitalizations driven by new highly transmissible omicron strains. In September, President Joe Biden declared the pandemic "over" amid a decline in case totals and deaths.

"It's been a heavy flu season and a significant time for other illnesses," Chip Kahn, President and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, told Becker's. "I do think we're fast approaching a point where there will be heightened [COVID] surges, but this will be part of the routine — it's becoming integrated with hospital activity, especially with the drugs and treatment knowledge at this point."

Over the last three years, the PHE has played a major role in healthcare policy — it led to a complete overhaul of telehealth and who can use it, fast-tracked approvals of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and preserved healthcare coverage for millions of Medicaid beneficiaries nationwide.

During the PHE, states could not kick people off Medicaid. But in December, Congress passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that detached the PHE from Medicaid redeterminations. Starting in April, states will begin redetermining who is and is not eligible for Medicaid, a process that could leave up to 18 million people without health coverage.

The spending bill also extends Medicare telehealth flexibilities through 2024, which previously would have ended 151 days after the PHE expired. It also extends acute hospital care at home waivers and flexibilities for two years through 2024. Similar to telehealth, the deadline for hospital at home waivers was tied to the status of the PHE. More than 250 hospitals have been approved by CMS to participate in the acute hospital care at home program.

The American Hospital Association had pushed for making many PHE policies permanent through legislation, including those around telehealth, rural care and hospital at home programs.

"In the new year, we will continue to advocate for Congress and the administration to take action to address patient discharge backlogs, support our current workforce and increase the pipeline into the future, hold commercial health insurers accountable for policies that compromise patient safety and add burden to care providers, and strengthen hospitals that care for a disproportionate number of patients covered by government programs or are uninsured, to name a few of our priorities," AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement shared with Becker's.

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