Congress returns to Washington on September 8 for a three-week push to finish up the 2020 fiscal year. House and Senate appropriators are not even close to passing Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills, meaning Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the federal government at least through the November Presidential election. This would mean federal programs, such as the SORH and Flex grant programs, will remain at FY20 appropriated levels into late November or early December.
Throughout September, Congress will debate pairing the CR with targeted COVID relief measures. This will likely include many of the previously agreed upon items like funding for schools and unemployment benefits and possibly telehealth. Given the proximity to the presidential election, look for a contentious debate over the funding levels for the COVID-related provisions. During August, Senate Republicans released a targeted COVID-19 relief bill which provided $10 billion in funding for the US Postal Service and $105 billion to aid school districts to open. Unlike past COVID-related proposals, the targeted Senate bill did not emphasize health care provisions or anything related to rural health. Expect to see more healthcare-related funding extensions and possible rural carve-outs in the upcoming CR.
One area Congress could reach agreement on before the end of the year is telehealth. In the Senate’s CARES 2.0 package text Sections 303 and 304are focused on telehealth. Section 303 would expand the Medicare telehealth waivers through the length of the public health emergency, or December 31, 2021. This seems to be a bare minimum approach for telehealth provisions. The House Telehealth Caucus is pushing H.R. 7663, the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2020, to be included in the next package. The Caucus’ top priority is eliminating geographic restrictions of originating sites. The bill would also let patients receive care from home and require HHS to study telehealth’s use, costs and any racial or geographic disparities during the pandemic. It would also give HHS the ability to issue waivers during any future public health emergencies and the 90 days after the rescinding of the public health emergency.