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.
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.