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COVID-19 Briefs for July 27, 2020

The federal COVID-19 public health emergency has been extended another 90 days. It was set to expire on July 25.

Alex Azar, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services signed the extension last week (July 23), putting the new expiration date in late October.

Accompanying the public health emergency (PHE) declaration are several Medicare regulatory waivers that have been put into effect over the past months, as summarized on our COVID-19 resource page.

CMS audits and enforcement to resume August 3

In a new set of Frequently Asked Questions, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says that it will re-start audit and enforcement activities on August 3 “regardless of the status of the public health emergency.”

This ends the suspension of most Medicare fee-for-service pre-payment medical reviews conducted by Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, and post-payment reviews conducted by the MACs, Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC) reviews, and Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC) activities which were suspended March 30 in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

CMS notes that all reviews will be conducted in accordance with statutory and regulatory provisions, as well as related billing and coding requirements. Waivers and flexibilities in place at date of service will also be applied for any potentially selected claims.

Return to Work Guidance 

DOH has updated its “Return to Work Guidance.”

It covers when the following categories of individuals can work: health care personnel who have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who have travelled internationally in the past fourteen days; and health care personnel who have traveled in the past 14 days to a state with a significant degree of community spread of COVID-19. It also discusses when such personnel with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, whether health care providers or other facility staff, can continue to work.

U.S. DOL Guidance on Wage and Hour Issues

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced additional guidance on requirements and protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

The new guidance provides plain-language questions and answers addressing critical issues under all three laws:

NYC FAQs

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has updated its FAQs About COVID-19 for Health Care Providers. It covers: quarantine and isolation; guidance for health care personnel; protective personal equipment; telehealth; testing and reporting; and more.

Guidance Issued on Civil Rights Protections During COVID-19

Last week, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance stressing federal civil rights laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during COVID-19. This bulletin focuses on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To help ensure Title VI compliance during the COVID-19 public health emergency, recipients of federal financial assistance, including state and local agencies, hospitals, and other health care providers, should:

  • Adopt policies to prevent and address harassment or other unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Ensure that Community-Based Testing Sites and Alternate Care Sites are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations.
  • Confirm that existing policies and procedures with respect to COVID-19-related services (including testing) do not exclude or otherwise deny persons on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Ensure that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units compared to similarly situated non-minority individuals.
  • Provide ambulance service, non-emergency medical transportation, and home health services to all neighborhoods within the recipient’s service area, without regard to race, color, or national origin.
  • Appoint or select individuals to participate as members of a planning or advisory body which is an integral part of the recipient’s program, without exclusions on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Assign staff, including physicians, nurses, and volunteer caregivers, without regard to race, color, or national origin. Recipients should not honor a patient’s request for a same-race physician, nurse, or volunteer caregiver.
  • Make available to patients, beneficiaries, and customers information on how the recipient does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

See here for more OCR announcements related to civil rights and COVID-19.