The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Acting Secretary Norris Cochran declared a public health emergency for the state of Texas on Feb. 17, 2021, due to the recent winter storms. This declaration follows President Biden’s emergency declaration for the state of Texas last week. The recent HHS action allows the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to give healthcare providers and suppliers greater flexibility in meeting emergency health needs in disasters.

"As communities across Texas are facing the aftermath of severe winter weather that is unusual for the area, we are ready to provide critical support,” said HHS Acting Secretary Cochran. “The public health emergency declaration and Social Security Act waiver will help ensure our department’s continued ability to protect access to healthcare – particularly for those with Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. HHS stands ready to assist the state of Texas to get aid to those individuals and families most impacted by these storms.”

In declaring the public health emergency and authorizing flexibilities for CMS programs, Acting Secretary Cochran performed within his authority under the Public Health Service Act and Social Security Act. These actions and flexibilities are retroactive to February 11, 2021.

They include authorizing the waiver or modification of certain requirements of titles XVIII, XIX, and XXI to ensure that sufficient healthcare items and services are available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in the Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP programs, and exempts providers from certain penalties. Additionally, healthcare providers in the declared emergency area can request 1135 waivers from CMS.

To help support vulnerable populations, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and CMS are supporting the state’s efforts to ensure sufficient healthcare items and services remain available to meet the needs of individuals enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This includes providing the state with planning data that the health department can use to help address potential needs of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, such as oxygen concentrators or wheelchairs, and home health services.

To assist residents in the impacted area in coping with the stress of the disasters, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration activated the Disaster Distress Helpline. The 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 after a disaster. Residents in affected areas may call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 (for Spanish, press 2 or text Hablanos to 66746) to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

HHS will continue to closely monitor the winter storms and make detailed, practical information available to help the public protect themselves. This information includes preventing carbon monoxide poisoning; identifying and disposing of unsafe food, water and medications; reducing exposure to mold; and avoiding other health risks.

Guidance and other resources to assist in addressing such health hazards and risks are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) online and through CDC’s information service, CDC-INFO. Live agents provide up-to-date science-based health information. CDC-INFO can be reached Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or by submitting a web-based form. Services are available in English and Spanish.

Public health and safety information for winter storms can be found on the Ready.gov emergency website.

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