COVID-19 Resource Center

set of people ware mask 01

We're here to help.

Last Update: March 4, 2021

As the COVID-19 public health emergency continues, the Pennsylvania Health Law Project (PHLP) is committed to making sure those with Medical Assistance (MA) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage have services, and to securing insurance coverage for the uninsured. 

PHLP staff are working remotely through the crisis and are available to counsel and represent Pennsylvanians throughout the state.  Our toll-free Helpline (1-800-274-3258) remains open every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8 AM to 8 PM.  We can also be reached at staff@phlp.org

Read: A Statement From Our Executive Director on COVID-19

Federal & State Updates

Pennsylvania DOH Releases Vaccine Information

The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed to Pennsylvanians in a phased approach. To learn about this phased approach, visit the Department of Health's Vaccine Site.  In releasing its plans for vaccine distribution, the Department of Health noted: "Many components of the COVID-19 vaccine plan remain fluid and continue to be modified and adapted as more announcements and decisions are made at the federal level. The department is continuing to receive feedback and will be modifying this plan and posting public updates to this in the coming weeks."

Public Health Emergency (PHE) Declaration Extended

In early January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services renewed the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) declaration based on the coronavirus pandemic, which was set to expire in late January 2021.  This extends the federal PHE – and important Medicaid protections in place in Pennsylvania based on this authority – until at least April 20, 2021. 

1. Continuous Coverage

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires states to provide continuous coverage for all Medicaid beneficiaries until the end of the month in which the federal PHE declaration ends.  This means that most people on Medicaid must continue to receive Medicaid through April 30, 2021, even if they are no longer eligible.  States can only close a person’s Medicaid coverage at their request or based on certain narrow exceptions to the continuous coverage rule.   

However, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) published new guidance last month that expands the exceptions under which DHS can stop a person’s Medicaid.  DHS will now stop the benefit where coverage was opened through fraud or by agency error.  It will also stop coverage for certain Medicaid consumers who now qualify for Medicare and the state’s Medicare Buy-In program.  New Medicare beneficiaries who would not qualify for Medicaid but for the pandemic protection will now be moved to the Medicare Buy-In program.  If they do not qualify for Buy-In, DHS will maintain their Medicaid until the continuous coverage protection expires.   

2. Pediatric Shift Nursing “Freeze” 

The extension of the federal PHE also allows Pennsylvania to continue administrative flexibilities like the protections currently in place for pediatric skilled nursing services.  As one of many temporary changes approved through Section 1135 waiver authority, DHS in early April 2020 removed prior authorization requirements for many services and effectively “froze” existing authorizations for in-home pediatric skilled nursing services.  Any shift nursing requests newly approved since April 2020 are also covered by these protections.  State officials have confirmed in public meetings that DHS will continue the shift nursing protection for as long as the federal PHE remains in effect.   

3. Beneficiaries Turning 21 Will No Longer Retain Benefits Available to Children  

State officials recently announced that DHS will stop maintaining the “child” benefit package for young adults who turn age 21 on February 1, 2021.  This follows a change in how federal authorities interpret the Family First Coronavirus Response Act.  We had reported that states, including Pennsylvania, were required to maintain beneficiary benefit levels during the federal PHE.  However, because of this policy change starting February 1st, young adults turning 21 will no longer have access to services such as private duty shift nursing and should receive a letter from DHS describing the change.  If they have not transitioned into Medicaid waiver already, young adults who need long term care services (like personal care or shift nursing) in the community should apply for a Medicaid waiver program.   

Please contact PHLP’s Helpline at 1-800-274-3258 (or email staff@phlp.org) with any questions or if you need legal assistance maintaining these essential supports. 

No Rationing Medical Care Based On Disability; Age 

On March 28, 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ civil rights office told medical providers that they may not deny medical care to people based on their disabilities or age during the coronavirus emergency.  The directive, released in a bulletin, came days after disability rights advocates filed complaints arguing that protocols to ration lifesaving medical care — adopted by Alabama and Washington State — were discriminatory. 

On March 27, 2020, the Pennsylvania Medical Assistance Advisory Committee (MAAC) unanimously approved a resolution exhorting Governor Wolf to ensure that when it comes to the allocation of life-saving treatment 1) patients are not discriminated against because of their Medical Assistance Insurance status, and 2) people with disabilities are not given lower priority because of preexisting disabilities, even when those conditions require more scarce resources.  The MAAC also requested that any guidelines developed be developed with the stakeholders and experts listed in the resolution, and that they be released to the public once finalized.  

Governor Wolf has also stated his strong commitment to ensuring all Pennsylvanians receive fair and equitable access to lifesaving health care during the COVID-19 pandemic; and will not tolerate discrimination in the allocation of lifesaving resources based on any factor including, but not limited to age, disability and socioeconomic status. 

Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP) has opened a Health Care Rationing Hotline during the pandemic. Individuals with disabilities who experience discrimination in health care rationing, who are denied effective communication at the hospital, or who are prohibited from bringing a needed family member or staff with them into the hospital should contact DRP's Hotline at 1-800-692-7443 ext. 402.

Medicare Part B Applications During COVID-19

In addition to mail, Medicare beneficiaries can now enroll into Medicare Part B coverage by fax, and in some cases, online. 

CMS added a new online enrollment option for people age 65 or older and who have or had group health plan (GHP) coverage within the last 8 months through their or their spouse’s current employer. To apply online, you will need your Medicare number, your current address and phone number, a valid e-mail address, and documentation verifying your Group Health Plan (GHP) coverage through your or your spouse’s current employment. 

To apply by fax, send the Medicare Part B form, CMS-40B and CMS L564—Request for Employment Information, along with proof of employment, GHP coverage, or Large Group Health Plan (LGHP) to the Social Security Administration at 1-833-914-2016. This information is reflected on SSA’s How to Apply for Just Medicare page.  As a reminder, the applications for Part A and the Low-Income Subsidy (Extra Help) can be completed online. Source: Justice in Aging.

State Policy Documents

Other COVID-19 Resources

Our Helpline is open MWF from 8am to 8pm. Contact us today for help!

Your support makes our work possible.