December 3, 2018
HHS Secretary Azar Declares Public Health Emergency in Alaska Due to Earthquake Damage
Following President Trump’s lead in declaring an emergency in Alaska after the Nov. 30 earthquake, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar today declared a public health emergency in Alaska. The declaration triggers other legal authorities that give the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) beneficiaries, their healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“HHS is working closely with state health authorities and monitoring the needs of healthcare facilities,” Secretary Azar said. “This declaration will help ensure that Americans who were affected by the earthquake and rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program have continuous access to the care as the area recovers.”
With the declaration in place, CMS can use legal authority provided under the Social Security Act section 1135 to grant waivers that will aid healthcare facilities in providing uninterrupted care and services for the elderly and people with disabilities living in long-term care facilities. The waivers also support the Alaska Medicaid Agency’s administrative processes, ensuring that Medicaid funds continue to flow despite the temporary closure of the agency’s offices.
As part of the federal response to the earthquake, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline is available to assist residents in the impacted areas in coping with the stress of the disaster. The Disaster Distress Helpline provides immediate 24/7, 365-days-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions in disasters. Call 1-800-985-5990 toll free or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has guidance available for territory agencies and community organizations to help ensure equal access to emergency services and the appropriate sharing of medical information during emergencies, including how federal civil rights laws apply in an emergency and how HIPAA laws apply in an emergency. OCR also provides a HIPAA Disclosures for Emergency Preparedness Decision Tool.
In declaring the public health emergency in Alaska and authorizing flexibilities for CMS beneficiaries, Secretary Azar acted under his authority in the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to Nov. 30, 2018.