Next month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to formally extend the federal public health emergency (PHE) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a move that HHS has made every 90 days since the emergency was declared in January 2020.
The extension is important for several reasons. First, while COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed nationwide, the U.S. continues to average nearly 100,000 documented infections and more than 400 deaths per day, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. In California, there are more than 10,000 cases per day and roughly three dozen deaths.
This pandemic is still not over.
Second, the extension is necessary to minimize disruptions to the nation’s fragile health care delivery system by ensuring the continuation of critical waivers and other flexibilities such as expanded access to telehealth services, the establishment of hospital at home programs, reduced administrative tasks, additional resources for COVID-19 patients, and support for a thin workforce via the ability of health care professionals to practice across state lines.
A recent survey from the American Hospital Association underscores the negative impact if the PHE ends prematurely, with 89% of hospitals reporting that they still depend on the flexibilities provided by the PHE waivers to deliver needed care.
While federal officials last month began to examine how providers can draw on the lessons learned during the pandemic to deliver care after the PHE expires, the expected extension will provide greater reliability and predictability for hospitals still caring for hundreds and thousands of COVID-19 patients every day.