COVID-19 Spurs Passage of Landmark Spending Bills
With the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States, Congress passed and the President signed into law three major funding bills addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Below is a look at the three bills and a preview of what’s next for Congress.
On March 6, President Trump signed into law H.R. 6074 – The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Appropriations bill. This bill provides $950 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for grants to states. The bill also included $100 million to HRSA under the Health Centers Program as defined by section 330 of the Public Health Service Act.
On March 18, the President signed into law H.R. 6201 – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This multi-billion dollar spending bill largely addressed funding Unemployment Insurance and expanding the Emergency Family Medical Leave Act.
On March 27, the President signed into law H.R. 748 – the CARES Act. The Cares Act is the most significant of the three funding measures and includes billions of dollars in federal funding and many substantive rural provisions.
- Most significantly this provides $127 billion in funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. Within this fund, $100 billion is made available to reimburse eligible health care providers for healthcare-related expenses or lost revenues not otherwise reimbursed that are directly attributable to COVID-19. Funding will be on a rolling basis through “the most efficient payment systems practicable to provide emergency payment.”
- Sec 3719 expands, for the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency period, an existing Medicare accelerated payment program. Specifically, qualified facilities would be able to request up to a six-month advanced lump sum or periodic payment. Hospitals can elect to receive up to 100 percent of the prior period payments, and Critical Access Hospitals can receive up to 125 percent. And a qualifying hospital would not be required to start paying down the loan for four months and would also have at least 12 months to complete repayment without a requirement to pay interest.
- Sec. 3709 would temporarily lift the Medicare sequester, which reduces payments to providers by 2 percent, starting May 1 through December 31, 2020.
- Sec. 3710 would increase the payment that would otherwise be made to a hospital for treating a patient admitted with COVID-19 by 20 percent. This add-on payment would be available through the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period.
- Sec. 3212 reauthorizes HRSA grant programs that promote the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education and health information services.
- Sec. 3213 reauthorizes HRSA grant programs to strengthen rural community health by focusing on quality improvement, increasing health care access, coordination of care, and integration of services.
- The CARES Act also removes the requirement from HR 6074 that a doctor had to have treated a patient within the last three years to use expanded telehealth under Medicare.
- Sec. 3831 extends funding for Community Health Centers, the National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Centers that Operate GME Programs until November 20, 2020.
- Sec. 3211 provides $1.32 billion in supplemental funding to community health centers for testing and treating patients for COVID-19.
Fourth Stimulus Bill on the Horizon
A fourth stimulus bill is already being worked on by House Democrats. The bill is expected to address shoring up health systems, creating protective standards for frontline healthcare workers, and boost infrastructure along with some other priorities. With Congress working remotely until at least April 21, Senate Republicans have indicated they would prefer to wait and see how CARES funding impacts the virus before committing to a fourth funding bill.