The White House has declared the 2009 H1N1 "swine flu" pandemic a national emergency, a designation that will make it easier for medical facilities to handle a surge of patients infected with the potentially deadly virus.
The president's action on Saturday is intended to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and make it easier for the sick to seek treatment and medical providers to provide it immediately. It also will allow medical facilities to waive certain standard requirements for Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health insurance programs on a case-by-case basis.
But Mr. Obama said "given that the rapid increase in illness across the nation may overburden health care resources," raising the level of the virus to national emergency status was warranted.
The new declaration clears the way for medical providers to bypass federal requirements that, for example, could prevent hospitals from establishing off-site, alternate care facilities that could help them deal with emergency department demands.