On March 30, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator announced sweeping regulatory changes to address the surge in the number of patients requiring care expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the agency’s new “hospitals without walls” program, hospitals will be able to transfer patients to outside facilities, such as ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, hotels, and dormitories, while still receiving hospital payments under Medicare. Highlights of the rule:
- CMS will now temporarily permit non-hospital buildings and spaces to be used for patient care and quarantine sites, provided that the location is approved by the State and ensures the safety and comfort of patients and staff.
- CMS will also allow hospitals, laboratories, and other entities to perform tests for COVID-19 on people at home and in other community-based settings outside of the hospital. The new guidance allows healthcare systems, hospitals, and communities to set up testing sites exclusively for the purpose of identifying COVID-19-positive patients in a safe environment.
- CMS will allow hospital emergency departments to test and screen patients for COVID-19 at drive-through and off-campus test sites.
- During the public health emergency, ambulances can transport patients to a wider range of locations when other transportation is not medically appropriate including community mental health centers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), physician’s offices, urgent care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers, and any locations furnishing dialysis services when an ESRD facility is not available.
- Physician-owned hospitals can temporarily increase the number of their licensed beds, operating rooms, and procedure rooms. For example, a physician-owned hospital may temporarily convert observation beds to inpatient beds to accommodate patient surge during the public health emergency.
- Emergency departments of hospitals can use telehealth services to quickly assess patients to determine the most appropriate site of care, freeing emergency space for those that need it most. New rules ensure that patients can be screened at alternate treatment and testing sites which are not subject to the The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) as long as the national emergency remains in place. This will allow hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and critical access hospitals (CAHs) to screen patients at a location offsite from the hospital’s campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19
For more information, go to cms.gov/corona for announcements about policy changes and CDC.gov/coronavirus for information about public health preparedness.
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