CMS Temporarily Suspends Many Regulations to Give Hospitals More Capacity During Pandemic

March 31, 2020

The changes are aimed at helping hospitals increase their capacities for the sickest patients; expand the pool of local healthcare providers who are available to work; eliminating ordinary paperwork and documentation requirements; expanding Medicare coverage for respiratory-related devices and equipment for any medical reason; and expanding telehealth in Medicare by covering more than 80 additional services.

CMS Monday temporarily relaxed rules and regulations through waivers and other means in order to separate patients infected with the novel 2019 coronavirus from others, allowing healthcare systems and hospitals to triage these other patients into community settings, including ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, as well as hotels and college dormitories.

With a surge of cases still expected to sweep across the country over the next 4 to 8 weeks, the temporary changes take effect immediately across the country for the length of the emergency declaration, which was declared March 13.

In a statement, CMS said the move “will help hospital staffs to focus on the most critical COVID-19 patients, maintain infection control protocols, and conserve personal protective equipment (PPE).”

The changes are aimed at helping hospitals increase their capacities for the sickest patients; expand the pool of local healthcare providers who are available to work; eliminating ordinary paperwork and documentation requirements; expanding Medicare coverage for respiratory-related devices and equipment for any medical reason; and expanding telehealth in Medicare by covering more than 80 additional services.

In ordinary times, hospitals are required by CMS to provide services within their own facilties. Under the relaxed rules, hospitals can trasfer patients elsewhere and still receive reimbursement.

Also in normal times, doctor-owned hospitals must abide by the Stark law, which was enacted to prevent independent physicians from referring Medicare patients to facilities where they have a financial benefit. Under the temporary pandemic rules, these hospitals can increase their number of beds without running afoul of the law.

In addition, CMS is issuing guidance to dialysis facilities to allow for the establishment of special purpose facilities restricted to care for patients with COVID-19. Patients receiving dialysis are more susceptible to complications from the virus.