Press Releases

CMS Issues Call to Action for Hospital Emergency Departments to Screen Patients for Coronavirus

Agency urges hospital emergency departments to screen all patients for Coronavirus, and reinforces hospitals’ obligations to patients, visitors, and healthcare workers

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced actions to ensure the United States’ 5,000 Medicare-participating hospitals continue to implement infection control procedures they are required to maintain under federal regulations, meeting their obligations to care for patients in the face of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Specifically, the agency published a memorandum to State Survey Agency directors providing guidance to hospitals with emergency departments (EDs) on patient screening, treatment and transfer requirements to prevent the spread of infectious disease and illness, including COVID-19. CMS requires facilities to maintain infection control and prevention policies as a condition for participation in the programs.

“CMS is proactively and aggressively providing clear and actionable guidance to healthcare providers across the system to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to keep patients and healthcare workers safe,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Hospital emergency departments – and all healthcare providers – should redouble their infection control and prevention efforts. We have been in close communication with provider groups and associations, and are thankful for their proactive efforts to prepare their members to address the potential spread of Coronavirus.”

In the memorandum released today, CMS announced that Medicare-participating hospitals should continue to follow both CDC guidance for infection control and Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) requirements. EMTALA is a federal law that requires hospitals to provide an appropriate medical screening examination to determine if a medical emergency exits to anyone coming to a hospital emergency department, regardless of their ability to pay. CMS enforces EMTALA obligations and routinely assists hospitals with implementation. To ensure hospitals fully understood the requirements and that no changes have resulted from COVID-19, CMS issued frequently asked questions and answers on EMTALA.

CMS is clear that Medicare-certified hospitals with emergency departments are to provide a federally required, appropriate medical screening examination to every patient that comes to the ED, including those suspected of having COVID-19. If the examination indicates a possible COVID-19 case, hospitals should isolate the patient following the guidance established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to minimize the risk of cross-contamination to other patients, visitors, and healthcare workers. Hospitals should also immediately contact state or local public health officials for direction on next steps, including cases where a patient may need to be transferred. Sending and receiving hospitals have an obligation to follow appropriate procedures for the safety of all involved.

The health, safety and welfare of the American people is the Trump Administration’s top priority. As always, CMS will continue to hold healthcare facilities to high-standards for effective infection control at every turn. The agency will also continue to ensure patients, providers and payers have the latest information on COVID-19.

Today’s EMTALA guidance and earlier CMS actions in response to the COVID-19 virus are part of ongoing White House Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work CMS is doing in response to COVID-19, please visit the Current Emergencies Website

Summary of CMS Public Health Action on COVID-19 to date:

On March 6, 2020, CMS issued frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs) for healthcare providers regarding Medicare payment for laboratory tests and other services related to the 2019-Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). For more information, visit:

On March 5, 2020, CMS announced a second Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code that can be used by laboratories to bill for certain COVID-19 diagnostic tests to help increase testing and track new cases. In addition, CMS released new fact sheets that explain Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Individual and Small Group Market Private Insurance coverage for services. For more information, visit:

On March 4, 2020, CMS issued a call to action to healthcare providers nationwide to ensure they are implementing longstanding infection control procedures and issued important guidance to help State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations prioritize their inspections of healthcare facilities to focus exclusively on issues related to infection control and other serious health and safety threats. For more information on CMS actions to prepare for and respond to COVID-19, visit:

On February 13, 2020, CMS issued a new HCPCS code for healthcare providers and laboratories to test patients for COVID-19 using the CDC-developed test. For more information about this code, visit:

On February 6, 2020, CMS issued a memo to help the nation’s healthcare facilities take critical steps to prepare for COVID-19. To view a copy of the memo and see more details, visit:

On February 6, 2020, CMS also gave CLIA-certified laboratories information about how they can test for SARS-CoV-2. To read more about those efforts, visit:


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