Pediatric groups urge Biden to issue national emergency over respiratory viruses

The Children's Hospital Association and American Academy of Pediatrics are calling on federal officials to declare a national and public health emergency to free up resources and give hospitals more flexibility to respond to an "alarming surge of pediatric hospitalizations" from respiratory syncytial virus and flu.

In a Nov. 14 letter sent to President Joe Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, the pediatric groups said the confluence of capacity issues from respiratory viruses and ongoing children's mental health needs "requires nimbleness and flexibility that can only be provided through a presidential declaration of an emergency under the Stafford Act or National Emergencies Act and a public health emergency declaration."

Such declarations would allow a waiver of certain Medicare, Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program requirements, according to the groups. For example, waivers may alleviate hospitals from Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act requirements "that may impede transferring patients and creating off-site triage to manage capacity challenges."

They also asked federal officials to urge Medicaid agencies to support telehealth and out-of-state care; mitigate supply and drug shortages; provide funding to support increased costs; prioritize rental and excess equipment to pediatric providers; and provide pediatric providers with visibility into supplies and equipment in the national stockpile. 

"These flexibilities have been provided under COVID-19 and were critical during the height of the surge and ongoing fluctuations of the virus," the letter said. "Children and children's providers require the same capacity support as they strive to keep up with the increasing needs of our youngest Americans." 

More than 75 percent of the nation's pediatric hospital beds are full, with many states above 90 percent capacity. Flu hospitalizations are also higher than they have been this early in the season since the 2010-11 season. 

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