The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined unprecedented comprehensive steps to increase the capacity of the American health care system.
This will provide care to patients outside a traditional hospital setting amid a rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the country. These flexibilities include allowances for safe hospital care for eligible patients in their homes and updated staffing flexibility designed to allow ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) to provide greater inpatient care when needed.
Building on CMS’s previous actions to expand the availability of telehealth across the nation, these actions are aimed at allowing health care services to be provided outside a hospital setting while maintaining capacity to continue critical non-COVID-19 care, allowing hospitals to focus on the increased need for care stemming from public health emergency.
“We’re at a new level of crisis response with COVID-19 and CMS is leveraging the latest innovations and technology to help health care systems that are facing significant challenges to increase their capacity to make sure patients get the care they need,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “With new areas across the country experiencing significant challenges to the capacity of their health care systems, our job is to make sure that CMS regulations are not standing in the way of patient care for COVID-19 and beyond.”
In March 2020, CMS announced the Hospitals Without Walls program, which provides broad regulatory flexibility that allows hospitals to provide services in locations beyond their existing walls.
CMS is expanding on this effort by executing an innovative Acute Hospital Care At Home program, providing eligible hospitals with unprecedented regulatory flexibilities to treat eligible patients in their homes.
This program was developed to support models of at-home hospital care throughout the country that have seen prior success in several leading hospital institutions and networks, and reported in academic journals, including a major study funded by a Healthcare Innovation Award from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.
This announcement builds upon the critical work by CMS to expand telehealth coverage to keep beneficiaries safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. CMS has expanded the scope of Medicare telehealth to allow Medicare beneficiaries across the country to receive telehealth services from any location, including their homes.
CMS also added over 135 services such as emergency department visits, initial inpatient and nursing facility visits, and discharge day management services that could be paid when delivered by telehealth.
The flexibilities and the aggressive action taken by CMS to remove barriers to telehealth, ensure patients and providers have options when receiving and providing care given the challenges and additional stress placed on hospitals and the health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.