March 13, 2020. Nearly 3 years ago the Trump Administration declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, both the Trump and Biden Administrations have extended the declaration with seemingly no end in sight. However, after months of speculation, the Biden Administration has declared it will allow the declarations to expire officially on May 11, 2023. The Declarations provided the Federal Government broad authority during the pandemic and largely expanded health care services and funding. So what does it mean that these declarations are ending? Well, we just don’t know exactly at this time. Our expectation is that nearly everything that was affected by the declarations at the time will revert back. However, there is speculation that a number of beneficial health care service related rules will remain in place more permanently or at least long time. For example, Medicare patients can receive telehealth services for behavioral/mental health in their home, still, and there are no geographic restrictions for originating site for behavioral/mental telehealth services.
What does the end of the public health emergency mean for non-medicare treatments that involve prescribing of controlled substances? Again, we just don’t know enough at this point. We have to expect that we’ll revert back to the restrictions imposed by the Ryan Haight Act, however, dozens of organizations have pressed the DEA and Congress to make permanent the telehealth controlled substance waiver, exempting patients from receiving an in-person evaluation prior to receiving controlled substances. The Ryan Haight Act specifically stated that a practitioner could not issue a “valid prescription” for a controlled substance without an in-person medical exam first, except in certain limited circumstances.
At this point, we are all awaiting clarity on what happens on May 11th. Many lawmakers are eager to keep the good of the declarations in place, like access to healthcare. Either way, we expect things to change.