public health emergency
President Joe Biden has issued a number of Executive Orders, many of which address the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency. On January 21, 2021, President Biden released another pillar of his Administration’s long-term plan to direct the United States out of the throes of the pandemic. The twelfth Executive Order titled, “Ensuring a Data-Driven Response to COVID-19 and Future High-Consequence Public Health Threats” orders the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) Secretary Alex Azar to conduct a nationwide review of the interoperability of public health data systems in an effort to enhance the collection, sharing, analysis, and collaboration of de-identified patient data.
Recent regulatory waivers and rule changes by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) have resulted in a notable increase in patients seen remotely, according to two recent studies. The studies suggest that CMS regulatory waivers and rule changes, which included expanded access to COVID-19 testing and telehealth services in response to challenges faced by health care providers and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, have increased remote delivery of mental health care and highly specialized clinical practices like plastic surgery.
COVID-19 was an unexpected pandemic that hit the United States, causing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) to rush to make accommodations for the states. States administer their Medicaid programs following a state plan and under the regulation of federal rules. With approval, states are allowed to amend their state plan and apply for waivers to improve the effectiveness of their Medicaid program. During COVID-19, the Trump Administration made available for states to apply for 1115 waivers, creating a new section labeling 1115(a), the 1135 waiver, and Appendix K to amend 1915(c) waivers for national emergencies. As of May 2020, CMS reported over 200 approved waivers across multiple states.
On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, the Trump Administration issued a statement regarding the recent outbreak of illnesses and deaths related to the use of electronic cigarettes (“e-cigarettes”). Soon after, the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) quickly followed suit. The Trump Administration’s statement comes after reports of 380 cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarettes in 36 states, in addition to 7 deaths. Both political parties have pressed for flavor bans, age restrictions, and other restrictions on the sale of vaping products. They have urged the FDA to move quickly and decisively to investigate and regulate e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes have been touted by manufacturers as a way to wean people from traditional cigarettes but have recently led to an “epidemic” of youth vaping of nicotine. E-cigarettes are popular among teens due to their availability, advertisements, e-liquid flavors, and the belief that they are safer than cigarettes. The long-term risks of vaping are currently unknown, but a growing numbers of studies show that e-cigarette vapor has severe health risks, including damaging lung tissue and blood vessels.
Though the rain has stopped falling, Houston is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, one of the largest and most destructive rainfall events on record. Healthcare providers in particular find themselves struggling to keep up with the various health problems caused by the flooding itself, on top of getting life-sustaining care to individuals with chronic or preexisting conditions. Crises like Harvey create serious problems for the delivery of care, but also for regulating it—circumstances are so uniquely devastating that standards can feel like barriers to necessary medical attention. And when family and friends are desperate to know if their loved one is out of danger, even the right of privacy seems negligible.
However, natural disasters and emergency events shouldn’t be used as an excuse to regulate away protections individuals depend on, such as the privacy and confidentiality of their personal information. Regulators must be careful when determining how to respond in a crisis—overreaching for the sake of bringing relief or under-regulating for flexibility can leave the public high and dry when the floodwaters recede.