Highlights of This Week’s COVID-19 News

 Friday, March 20, 2020

The following are some of the events of the previous week related to COVID-19:

ADPH Order Calls for Cancellation of Elective Procedures & Limitation of Visitors

During a Thursday afternoon news conference, Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer, announced a number of mandatory strategies to be implemented statewide continuing through Apr. 6. Effective immediately:

  • All hospitals and long-term care facilities should stop visitation for all visitors and non-essential health care personal, except for certain compassionate care situations, such as maternity and end-of-life.
  • All elective medical and dental procedures should be delayed. Dr. Harris did say hospitals should reference the exceptions listed on the attached Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidance. The CMS guidance creates several categories of procedures that may need to be performed based on the acuity of the patient.

Guidance released this week by the FDA puts states in charge of testing for COVID-19 and provides flexibility in the type of testing materials. Click for more information including FAQs with information on increased options for different types of swabs.

This week, CMS updated its FAQ for state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program agencies, answering questions related to flexibilities related to managed care, benefits, financing, Section 1115 demonstrations, and Section 1135 waivers offered as part of the president’s declaration of a national emergency.

The Agency also clarified coverage of COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment by catastrophic health plans. The document aligns with guidance released last week by the Internal Revenue Service, which gave high deductible health plans flexibility to provide COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment benefits without deductibles or cost-sharing.

ADPH this week released a revised protocol for drive-thru COVID-19 testing. The protocol includes guidance on staff training, collection techniques, specimen packaging and shipping, and submission of the required forms.

Medicaid updates – The Alabama Medicaid Agency is working to update its codes to allow billing for COVID-19 testing: U0001 – $25.13 and U0002 -$35.91. Medicaid will also begin paying a telemedicine origination site facility fee of $20.00 that will be limited to one per date of service per recipient in addition to extending its telemedicine coverage through Apr. 16.

Expanded coverage of telehealth – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama (BCBS)and Medicare have expanded telehealth coverage to allow providers to provide medically necessary services via telephone consultation. View BCBS provider Fact sheet. View CMS frequently asked questions regarding new telehealth policies and Medicaid telehealth guidance to states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 FAQ for health care professionals page to include protection of pregnant women, testing, treatments, waste management, and virus spread.

The CDC issued return-to-work criteria for healthcare personnel with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. The criteria suggested that return-to-work decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and also provided test-based and non-test-based strategies and suggested work restrictions.

The U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) provided clarification this week that will allow healthcare professionals to prescribe a controlled substance to a patient using telehealth technology as long as a national declaration of a public health emergency is in effect. DEA-registered practitioners may issue prescriptions for controlled substances to patients for whom they have not conducted an in-person medical evaluation, provided certain conditions are met.

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