NHC promotes patient priorities ahead of possible Public Health Emergency expiration

By: Michael Gordon, Communications Coordinator 

National Health Council (NHC) Chief Executive Officer Randall Rutta submitted a letter to leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate last week to expound upon several critical patient priorities that must be addressed as the nation approaches the potential expiration of the Public Health Emergency (PHE) on April 16. 

The NHC recognizes and appreciates that Congress and the Administration have already taken some steps to ensure people do not fall through the cracks when the PHE eventually ends. For example, Congress has extended Medicare’s ability to pay for telehealth services for five months after the PHE’s expiration. Additionally, the Administration has offered guidance to states that would allow for 14 months for them to make needed changes to their Medicaid program when enhanced federal funding ends. 

The letter first points out concerns over health care coverage as one of those patient priorities. 

It is important to note that the number of insured individuals grew during the pandemic and with that, the NHC hopes to limit how many people are disenrolled from Medicaid due to redeterminations.  

That is why the NHC requests a sufficient period to undertake the process and help limit the number of people losing coverage. 

The NHC also requests that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provide oversight of the redetermination process and track disenrollment’s to identify any disproportionate impact on marginalized populations.  

It is also requested that CMS develop understandable information to help communicate to patients at risk of disenrollment and provide resources to help people navigate to alternative coverage options. The patient community stands as a willing partner to ensure the right information is developed and delivered to the people who need it. 

The letter highlights how additional subsidies for purchasing health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has played an important role in increasing the number of insured individuals during the pandemic.While those subsidies are not directly tied to the PHE, they are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. 

That is why the NHC is also urging Congress to continue the enhanced ACA subsidies to make affordable coverage available to people when it was previously unavailable to them. 

The letter also urges Congress to continue incentives for states to expand Medicaid and create a federal alternative for millions of Americans who are still faced with falling into the Medicaid coverage gap, especially in states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility. 

Another top priority for the NHC is securing the future role of telehealth services, delivering high-quality, convenient, patient-centered care to people and communities across the country. Many patients benefited from increased telehealth flexibilities that were implemented during the PHE, but which may be allowed to expire without further action. 

Recognizing this function as an effective complimentary tool to in-person care, Congress is being urged to extend telehealth flexibilities. 

Telehealth policy can improve access through equitable coverage, with services covered by all health plans including Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA.  

The NHC also asserts that protecting telehealth policy helps to preserve and promote patient choice. A patient should have the opportunity and flexibility to choose whether they will access care in-person or via telehealth technologies. Additionally, patients should have limited out-of-pocket costs for telehealth services and be no more than what they would pay for an in-person visit. 

Finally, maintaining patient access to COVID vaccines and treatments is also a priority that the NHC believes should be addressed as the PHE expiration date nears. 

It is the position of the NHC that any potential increase in out-of-pocket costs for vaccines, testing, and treatment for COVID, brought on by the end of the PHE, can and should be avoided.  

To that end, the NHC requests that CMS release clear information to patients and providers about what will occur regarding those treatments when the PHE expires. 

In closing, the NHC recognizes that while the eventual expiration of the PHE represents an important milestone in our nations post pandemic return to normalcy, it will also trigger multiple policy impacts on people living with chronic conditions.  

Congress and the Administration must ensure removal of these protections does not disrupt care, and furthermore, that they recognize those changes which have directly benefitted patients as being worthy of further extensions, if not granting them permanent protection.  

Read the full letter here