The PHE renewal will continue through April.

With the constant drumbeat of rising cases of COVID-19, it’s little wonder that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has renewed the nation’s public health emergency (PHE) yet again.

The extension put providers on alert, realizing the increased scrutiny that can be expected from medical record auditors, as this brings another 90 days of 1135 waivers. The next milestone on the ever-moving timetable is mid-February, when HHS is expected to announce a 60-day notice to allow the PHE to expire in April.

The HHS Secretary is empowered to issues waivers under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act (SSA). Waivers are prompted when the President declares a major disaster or an emergency under the Stafford Act or an emergency under the National Emergencies Act.

According to the Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response, waivers are issued when providers of services (healthcare) to individuals are enrolled in SSA programs “in good faith … (yet) are unable to comply with certain statutory requirements, (so they can be) reimbursed and exempted from sanctions for noncompliance other than fraud or abuse.”

“Many expect this to be the last extension, although contagious viruses that mutate rarely act the way we expect them to act,” said Ronald Hirsch, MD, in an email to RACmonitor. “I am still hearing of a considerable number of hospitals facing capacity and staffing issues. We are far from back to normal.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), new cases of the deadly coronavirus appear to be trending upwards. The agency’s weekly cases are up from November, with 470,699 cases reported this month. Weekly deaths, according to the CDC, are at 2,731, while hospitalizations appear to be trending lower.

Meanwhile, media sources are reporting that the COVID omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 appears to be surging across the Northeast, where it is estimated that 72 percent of infections seem to be traced back to it.

Health officials say that this strain appears to evade immunity provided by immunizations, and even prior infections.

Yet another omicron subvariant, BQ.1.1, although still dominant in this country, has now reached into other U.S. regions, with health officials predicting that it will continue to spread.

In making his announcement, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said that as a result of “the continued consequences of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic,” he was renewing the PHE, effective Jan. 11, 2023.

The PHE was originally instituted Jan. 31, 2020 by former HHS Secretary Alex Azar, who also renewed the PHE again on April 21, July 23, and Oct. 2, all in 2020, and Jan. 7, 2021.

Becerra renewed the PHE on April 15, 2021, and in subsequent quarters in 2022.

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Chuck Buck

Chuck Buck is the publisher of RACmonitor and is the program host and executive producer of Monitor Monday.

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