March 16, 2020

HHS extends liability protection for health care workers amid coronavirus pandemic

Daily Briefing

    HHS on Thursday published a declaration that extends liability protections for health care providers, drugmakers, and suppliers who are working to address the new coronavirus pandemic.

    Our analysis: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks

    About the pandemic

    Reports of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and quickly spread to other countries.

    The United States saw its first COVID-19 case in late January, and cases have spiked since then. As of Monday morning, state and federal officials had reported 3,602 cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 66 deaths linked to the new coronavirus.

    Providers throughout the United States are scrambling to care for patients with suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19, while suppliers are working to keep up with increased demand for certain medical supplies. Drugmakers, meanwhile, are working to develop vaccines and treatments for the new disease.

    However, Modern Healthcare reports that, "[i]n times of emergency, people or organizations might be hesitant to help because they don't want to risk being sued over the assistance that they provide."

    Alex Azar releases emergency declaration amid coronavirus pandemic

    HHS' new declaration "is likely an effort to alleviate those fears so the industry can marshal the full extent of its resources to address COVID-19," Modern Healthcare reports.

    The declaration states that health care providers and other qualified entities will be protected from "any claim of loss" caused by or related to "the manufacture, distribution, administration, or use of medical countermeasures" intended to address the pandemic, "except for claims involving 'willful misconduct.'" HHS in the declaration clarified that "covered countermeasures" include drugs, devices, and products that are manufactured and designed to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19.

    HHS Secretary Alex Azar released the declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act and made the declaration's effective date retroactive to Feb. 4 (Brady, Modern Healthcare, 3/12; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/16; HHS declaration, accessed 3/13).

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