Last week, President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency, allowing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to waive certain requirements in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program known as CHIP.
The declaration allows the federal government to grant state Medicaid agencies more flexibility, such as submitting waiver requests to remove administrative burdens and expand access to needed health care services.
Florida was the first state to submit a Section 1135 waiver request following Trump’s emergency declaration and CMS quickly approved the request.
“I want to thank Governor [Ron] DeSantis for his leadership in Medicaid and for taking full advantage of federal flexibilities,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “CMS is committed to removing all unnecessary administrative and bureaucratic barriers that may hinder an effective response to this public health emergency, and I have directed my team to expeditiously process these requests.”
Florida’s approval letter enables the state to waive prior authorization requirements to remove barriers to needed services, streamline provider enrollment processes to ensure access to care for beneficiaries, allow care to be provided in alternative settings in the event a facility is evacuated to an unlicensed facility, suspend certain nursing home screening requirements to provide necessary administrative relief, and extend deadlines for appeals and state fair-hearing requests.
The approval also allows Florida’s Medicaid program to waive certain fees and background checks for health care providers.
CMS said the added flexibility will enable the state to focus its resources on combating COVID-19 and provide the best possible care to Medicaid beneficiaries in their state.
“Florida is acutely focused on eliminating unnecessary barriers on our health care providers who are on the front lines serving our communities most impacted by COVID-19,” DeSantis said.
“President Trump recognizes this need and Administrator Seema Verma is providing Florida the critical flexibility for our state’s Medicaid program by waiving prior authorization requirements for essential health care services and expedited provider enrollment.”
Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew added, “I am grateful to President Trump, Secretary [Alex] Azar, Administrator Verma and Gov. DeSantis for ensuring health care providers can prioritize response to COVID-19 through greater Medicaid flexibilities.”
CMS provides guidance to states on how to apply for Section 1135 waivers through the Medicaid Disaster Response Tool Kit.
CMS said it will “continue to expeditiously review and approve as appropriate all Section 1135 waivers and other requests that the agency receives to ensure that we are providing our state partners with the maximum flexibility they need to care for their Medicaid beneficiaries during the public health emergency.”
To support those efforts, CMS is developing checklists and tools to expedite requests and approvals for waivers and other commonly requested flexibilities.
While Florida is the first state to apply for this waiver authority, CMS expects more states will also submit similar requests.
The waiver authorization, and earlier CMS actions in response to the COVID-19 virus, are part of the ongoing White House Task Force efforts. More information on the Task Force’s COVID-19 response is available through www.coronavirus.gov.