Impacts of the Expir ...

Impacts of the Expiration of Mississippi’s COVID-19 State of Emergency on Healthcare Providers

November 19, 2021 | by Matt Sitton

On November 11, 2021, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, in coordination with State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs and MEMA Executive Director Stephen McCraney, announced Mississippi’s COVID-19 State of Emergency (“SOE”) would be extended eight days and end effective November 20, 2021. Reeves cited hospitalizations being effectively managed in the State and the administration of over 3,000,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Mississippians as reasons for ending the SOE. Governor Reeves previously extended the SOE on a month-to-month basis since its enaction in March of 2020, with the most recent extension as of October 11, 2021.

The declaration of the SOE in March of 2020 pursuant to the Governor’s authority at Mississippi Code Ann. Section 33-15-11 allowed for many of Mississippi’s state agencies to discharge their emergency responsibilities through their own emergency orders. These included, for instance, the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure suspending certain licensure requirements for the delivery of telemedicine, and the Mississippi State Department of Health (“MSDH”) and State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs issuing various orders with regards to COVID-19, including isolation, the postponement of non-urgent surgeries, and the coordination of hospital resources to combat rising COVID-19 cases pursuant to the MSDH’s COVID-19 System of Care Plan. While many of these orders have expired, some are contingent upon the existence of the SOE.

One such order from the Mississippi Department of Insurance—Bulletin 2020-1—suspended certain limitations applicable to telemedicine services, including 1) any limitation on the use of audio-only telephonic consultations; 2) any requirement by a health insurance or employee benefit plan that limits coverage to health care providers in the plan’s telemedicine network; and 3) any requirement by a health insurance or employee benefit plan that limits coverage to provider to provider consultations only. Following Governor Reeves’ announcement, the Department of Insurance issued further guidance in Bulletin 2021-5, in which it determined that Miss. Code Ann. § 83-9-351 did not expressly limit coverage for telemedicine services to provider-to-provider consultations only, and that the continued use of telemedicine under a patient-to-provider format would continue to be allowed. Commissioner of Insurance Mike Chaney further “strongly urge[d] that all health insurers providing coverage in Mississippi continue to comply with the provisions of Bulletin 2020-1 through at least March 31, 2022,” when the Commissioner will reassess the situation.

Other changes to provider reimbursement for telehealth, such as Medicaid’s temporary expansions to telehealth coverage, will remain in effect until the end of the Public Health Emergency as declared by the President of the United States.[1] However, Medicaid’s Emergency Telehealth Policy does advise that the usage of certain temporary telehealth codes will only continue “through the end of the Mississippi State of Emergency.” Similarly, Medicare’s broadening of its telehealth coverage pursuant to Section 1135 waivers will remain through the duration of the Federal Public Health Emergency for Mississippi health care providers.

Butler Snow will continue to monitor COVID-related legal developments and will provide further updates, as warranted.

[1] See Mississippi Administrative Code Title 23, Part 225, Chapter 1, Rule 1.7 (“The Mississippi Division of Medicaid will allow additional coverage of telehealth services during a state of emergency as declared by either the Governor of Mississippi or the President of the United States.”).

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