On May 15, the House passed H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act. The massive $3 trillion Coronavirus Relief bill is not going to be considered by the Senate, but does represent a starting point in the next virus-relief package. A few of the bill highlights include: an additional $100 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund; reduce the interest rate in Medicare Advanced Payment loans for all hospitals; include hazard pay for frontline healthcare workers; and a requirement for the promulgation of emergency OSHA standards for healthcare workers. Notably absent from the bill was a liability protection measure which Senate Republicans have said is a “red-line” for their support. The Senate will begin putting together their own COVID-relief package this month. The bill is expected to be much smaller in scope.
Appropriations: Along with consideration of an additional COVID-relief bill, Congress will use June and July to attempt to advance the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bills, which are one of the few “must-pass” legislative items this year. House leadership has indicated they will not begin the markup process until Congress has reached an agreement on the next Coronavirus relief bill. The Senate has hinted they may hold markups before the July 4 recess, although a markup of the Labor-HHS package has traditionally been one of the later bills to move.
NOSORH will meet with lawmakers and their staff throughout the process and urge them to increase funding for the State Offices of Rural Health Program to $15 million annually. NOSORH has been in discussions and will continue to advocate for increased funding and reauthorization for the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility grant program.
Bills Introduced: A bipartisan group of senators introduced the Save our Rural Health Providers Act. Sens Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Cindy Hyde Smith (R-MS) introduced the bill which seeks to create a new formula to ensure the provider relief fund has a dedicated set-aside amount directed towards rural areas of the U.S. The bill would create a 20 percent benchmark in the Provider Relief Fund which according to a press release would allocate more than $10 billion to rural states. The bill also grants priority for facilities that provide care for populations with limited access to health infrastructure. A companion bill was introduced in the House by Rep Small (D-MN) and Hagedorn (R-MN).
Also this month, Senators Schatz (D-Hawaii), Murkowski (R-AK), Boozman (R-AR) and Peters (D-MI) introduced the Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act. The bill directs $2 billion to help health care providers increase broadband capacity and expand telehealth services during the current public health crisis.