COVID-19 Update: March 18, 2020

The following is a summary of today’s major COVID-19-related developments.

Pennsylvania Updates

PACE Prescription Drug Program

Department of Health Secretary Rachel Levine announced that for individuals who participate in the state’s PACE program, which provides financial assistance on prescription drugs for low-income seniors, the state is waiving the current requirement that participants must use at least 75 percent of their supply of an individual drug before being eligible to renew their prescription.  This does not apply to opioids and other controlled substances but participants who use those drugs can apply for a waiver from the 75 percent requirement.

In addition, PACE participants will not have to pay the cost of home delivery of their prescriptions.

COVID-19 Testing

Secretary Levine said that her department is working with hospitals on testing sites.  The state is working with the county health departments in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties and the federal government to develop mass testing sites in those counties.  Meanwhile, Quest and Labcorp are now doing COVID-19 testing and other commercial labs should be coming online soon.  Hospitals, too, are developing their own testing capacity, and she specifically mentioned the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Penn Medicine, UPMC, and the Allegheny Health Network as now having FDA-approved testing programs.


Secretary Levine announced that the state has its own stock of extra ventilators and is hoping to acquire more of them.

Hospital Beds

The state, Secretary Levine said, is waiving the requirement that hospitals notify the state before they increase their bed complement.

Unemployment Compensation

With unemployment claims in Pennsylvania up sharply, the state is streamlining its process for applying for benefits, waiving a one-week waiting period while it verifies unemployment and proof of a job search while also encouraging people to apply online.  Read an account of the changes in this Pittsburgh Business Times article and find the official state notice here on the state’s unemployment compensation web page.

House Chamber of the State HousePA General Assembly Update

Today the Senate met briefly at the Capitol to pass temporary rules to allow its members to work and vote remotely should the need arise in the coming weeks/months.  This is similar to the temporary rules adopted by the House earlier this week.  In his floor remarks, Majority Leader Corman (R-Centre) committed to being as transparent as possible throughout this process with the public, press, administration, and House.  He also committed to only move legislation forward during this remote time that is directly related to the pandemic.  He noted that the time may come in the months ahead that the primary election or state budget could require the Senate’s attention in accordance with this remote voting authority.

Federal Updates

Senate Passes Emergency COVID-19 Aid Bill

Late this afternoon the Senate passed the COVID-19 aid bill that had already passed the House.  President Trump is expected to sign it.

Elective Surgery

Today Vice President Pence urged hospitals to delay elective procedures.  Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Verma said her agency will issue recommendations on such limits.

Practicing Medicine Across State Lines

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expected to issue regulations later today addressing the practice of medicine across state lines by doctors and medical professionals to meet the demands of caring for COVID-19 patients.

Section 1135 Waivers

The declaration of a national emergency included an invitation to states to apply for waivers of some federal regulations to facilitate caring for COVID-10 patients.  As we wrote to you yesterday, Florida already has received such a waiver.  Yesterday the California Hospital Association applied for such a waiver on behalf of the state’s hospitals and a published report suggests that almost every state is expected to apply for a section 1135 waiver.

Safety-Net Association of Pennsylvania logoInfection Control

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  has issued new infection prevention and control recommendations for patents with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.  See those recommendations here.

The CDC also has issued guidelines that address health care workers returning to work after suffering from COVID-19 or who were suspected of suffering from or being exposed to it.  Find those guidelines here.


Late yesterday HHS released a bulletin detailing the provisions of HIPAA that it will not be enforcing for covered hospitals that have implemented a disaster protocol.  The waiver became effective on March 15, 2020.  Find it here.


Yesterday the HHS Office of the Inspector General issued a policy statement regarding physicians and other practitioners that reduce or waive amounts owed by federal health care program beneficiaries for telehealth during the COVID-10 outbreak.  Find that policy statement here and an accompanying fact sheet here.

On the same subject, the HHS Office of Civil Rights issued a notification of enforcement discretion for telehealth remote communications during the COVID-19 emergency.  Find that document here.


Yesterday the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) announced that it has suspended its surveying activities at least until the end of April.

Filed in Coronavirus, COVID-19.

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