FAQs Regarding RHC Waivers

The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) is concluding on May 11, 2023. For details on what this means for RHCs, please review NARHC's recent webinar materials here.


Has CMS implemented any flexibilities to help RHCs and FQHCs respond to the PHE posed by COVID-19?

Yes. CMS has temporarily waived certain regulatory requirements providing flexibilities to assist RHCs and FQHCs in furnishing services during the COVID-19 PHE. This includes temporarily modifying the following: (a) 50% mid-level staffing requirement for RHCs; (b) Physician supervision requirement for nurse practitioners (NPs), to the extent permitted by State law; and (c) Location requirements for existing RHCs and FQHC to allow additions of temporary service locations. Please see https://www.cms.gov/files/document/summary-covid-19-emergency-declarationwaivers.pdf for additional waiver information. Additional flexibilities, including guidance for RHCs and FQHCs furnishing telehealth services during the PHE, are also described in this CMS MLN Article: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/se20016.pdf

When do these flexibilities go into effect?

The flexibilities for staffing requirements, physician supervision of nurse practitioners, and temporary expansion sites are retroactively effective beginning March 1, 2020, through the end of the emergency declaration and CMS issues an end of outbreak notification.

Do these flexibilities apply to all RHCs and FQHCs?

The flexibilities for physician supervision of NPs apply to all RHCs and FQHCs, to the extent permitted by state law. Flexibilities to the 50% mid-level staffing requirement apply to RHCs only as the mid-level requirement is RHC specific. Lastly, flexibilities to the location requirement apply to existing RHCs and FQHCs.

How does the mid-level practitioner 50% flexibility benefit an RHC? Are RHCs required to submit any documentation to CMS for this waiver?

This waiver provides RHCs with flexibilities with regards to the percentage of operating hours the facility has a mid-level practitioner available to furnish patient care services. While the waiver offers flexibilities with staffing mixes, a physician, NP, physician assistant, certified nurse midwife, clinical social worker, or clinical psychologist must be available on site to furnish patient care services whenever the RHC is open and operating. CMS does not require any submission of documentation for this waiver.

How does the waiver affect the physician supervision of NPs?

During the PHE, NPs may function to the fullest extent possible without physician supervision, and to the extent of applicable state law. However, the physician continues to be responsible for providing the overall medical direction for the RHC/FQHC’s health care activities, consultation for, and medical supervision of all other health care staff, either in person or through telehealth and other remote communications.

Can an RHC/FQHC provide patient care services at temporary locations?

Yes. During the COVID-19 PHE, CMS is allowing currently approved RHCs/FQHCs to provide patient care services in temporary expansion sites to help address the urgent need for supplementary care. These temporary sites are not restricted to the rural/shortage area location requirements. Each location is obligated to follow RHC/FQHC regulations to the extent not waived. Therefore, the RHC/FQHC may provide services provided at a temporary location under the CMS Certification Number (CCN) for the permanent location. The RHC/FQHC is expected to be operating in a manner not inconsistent with its state’s emergency preparedness plan. Note: FQHCs must also have an updated Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA) Notice of Award, expanding the scope of service to include the temporary location(s) to support response to the COVID-19 PHE.

Do these flexibilities apply to temporary locations established in a parking lot?

Yes. During the COVID-19 PHE, CMS is allowing RHC/FQHCs to establish temporary expansion sites in a parking lot; either on or off its premises. As with other temporary expansion locations, the parking lot site must meet the same RHC/FQHC regulations as the main site, unless otherwise waived. Therefore, the RHC/FQHC may provide for those services via the existing CCN of its approved permanent location. RHC/FQHC is expected to be operating in a manner not inconsistent with its state’s emergency preparedness plan.

Can an RHC/FQHC provide patient care services to a patient in the patient’s vehicle?

During the COVID-19 PHE, to help minimize transmission, an RHC/FQHC visit can take place if the patient is in a vehicle on the premises of the RHC/FQHC and all requirements for a billable visit are met (e.g. medically-necessary, face-to-face visits with an RHC/FQHC practitioner). The RHC/FQHC would provide the services using its existing CCN. All services provided are held to all RHC/FQHC regulations, unless otherwise waived. This includes, but is not limited to, the provisions of services as per 42 CFR 491.9(c). RHCs/FQHCs must consider the clinical appropriateness of services before conducting a visit and/or treating a patient in their vehicle.

Will an RHC or FQHC seeking approval of its temporary location as being consistent with the emergency response and pandemic plan be provided with evidence of approval or denial from the state?

State emergency plans and processes will vary. RHCs/FQHCs should retain any communications with the State emergency preparedness representatives to demonstrate that its temporary location(s) are not inconsistent with the state emergency preparedness and pandemic plan for the COVID-19 PHE. Once the state has approved the addition of temporary location(s), there are no additional CMS enrollment or reporting requirements. The RHC/FQHC may begin utilizing the temporary expansion location throughout the duration of the COVID-19 PHE.

May an RHC or FQHC continue providing RHC/FQHC services at the temporary location once the COVID-19 PHE ends?

No. All waived CoPs, CfCs, requirements, and most temporarily revised regulations will terminate at the end of the PHE. If the RHC/FQHC wishes to continue services at the temporary expansion location after the PHE has ended, the facility must submit form 855A to begin the process of enrollment and initial certification as a RHC or FQHC under the regular process and meet all applicable requirements, including 42 CFR 491.5.

My RHC participates in Medicare through one of the two CMS-approved RHC Accreditation Organizations (AOs). Do waivers of CMS regulations apply to CMS-approved accrediting programs? Do I need to notify the AO of my desire to temporarily add a service location during the COVID-19 PHE?

The flexibilities apply to both accredited and non-accredited RHCs. Notifying your AO of the temporary location is recommended.

Where can I find answers to COVID-19 flexibilities regarding Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) billing for RHCs and FQHCs?

To assist RHCs and FQHCs in furnishing service during the COVID-19 PHE, CMS has provided additional flexibilities related to billing for services. These temporary flexibilities currently include Expansion of Virtual Communication Services for RHCs and FQHCs to include online digital evaluation and management services using patient portals, and Revision of Home Health Agency Shortage Area Requirement for Visiting Nursing Services Furnished by RHCs and FQHCs. Please see the Medicare FFS Billing FAQ document available at https://www.cms.gov/files/document/03092020-covid-19-faqs-508.pdf. Please see Section II.L of the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period, “Medicare and Expanded Flexibilities for Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) Medicaid Programs; Policy and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) During Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-–19 Public Health Emergency (PHE)”