MGMA calls for COVID-19 public health emergency to be extended

The group joins hospitals in asking the Biden administration to continue the designation beyond October. At the same time, the CDC is easing some of its guidance.

President Biden’s administration is hearing more calls to continue the COVID-19 public health emergency beyond October.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services extended the public health emergency by 90 days last month, meaning it would expire in the middle of October without an extension. Healthcare organizations are anxious because U.S. Health Secretary Xavier Becerra has said he would give health organizations 60 days notice before ending the public health emergency.

As the calendar draws closer to that point, healthcare organizations have said they want the emergency extended, because the designation provides hospitals and health systems important tools to fight COVID-19. The designation includes waivers that have expanded telehealth services, hospital-at-home programs, hospital bed flexibility and other measures.

The Medical Group Management Association wrote a letter to Becerra Thursday, urging the government to continue the public health emergency and its waivers beyond the October expiration date. The MGMA represents more than 15,000 medical groups which employ more than 350,000 doctors.

“As workforce shortages and inflation continue to strain medical groups, any disruptions to the flexibilities afforded by the PHE could further exacerbate an already precarious situation,” the MGMA stated in the letter.

“Further, if you intend not to renew the PHE, we are concerned that a 60-day notice before ending it, is not enough time to sufficiently wind down flexibilities that have been in effect for over two and a half years,” the letter continued. “MGMA recommends you provide at least 90-days’ notice prior to terminating the COVID-19 PHE to provide practices with the appropriate time to evaluate changes in policy as a result of the expiration of pandemic-related flexibilities.”

Hospitals are also pushing for an extension.

The American Hospital Association sent a letter to the health secretary July 29 to urge the extension of the emergency designation beyond October. Rick Pollack, president of the hospital association, said the phasing out of waivers would make it more difficult for patients.

We strongly urge you to continue the COVID-19 PHE set to expire in October and allow for significant stakeholder engagement to create a smooth transition out of the pandemic,” he wrote.

The AHA cites a recent survey of hospital leaders that found 93% said their hospital would be affected if the waivers ended, and 89% said they rely on the waivers to deliver necessary care. Hospitals have faced serious financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic along with staffing shortages.

While health groups are pushing for an extension, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control eased some of its recommendations for businesses and schools related to the pandemic. The CDC move calls for less action from institutions and more from individuals, The Washington Post reported.

Schools and other institutions are no longer advised to maintain six-feet distances for social distancing or screen apparently healthy people. The CDC also says individuals don’t have to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, but should wear a mask for 10 days and get tested after the fifth day.

Given that most Americans are vaccinated or have developed immunity from infection and the greater availability of treatments, the CDC says the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 are “substantially reduced.”

About 42,000 people are hospitalized from COVID-19, which is well below the peak of 160,000 seen in the winter. However, COVID hospitalizations are substantially higher than in early April, when about 15,000 were treated in hospitals.

The federal government poured billions into hospitals to help keep them afloat during the pandemic. Still, hospitals have been frustrated that they didn't receive additional federal aid to deal with the influx of patients infected with the Delta and Omicron variants.