On the week of October 28, the Senate began deliberation on a Labor-HHS appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Senate Majority Leader McConnell filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the House-passed Labor-HHS spending bill (H.R. 2740). However, on October 31, the vote to pass the House bill and begin floor debate failed in a 51-41 vote.
Congress has a November 21, 2019 deadline to enact funding for FY 2020. If a bill is not passed by then another continuing resolution will need to pass. Members indicated this week that a continuing resolution could extend into early spring of 2020.
NOSORH is working with Congress to ensure the State Offices of Rural Health line is funded at the House-passed level of $12,500,000 for FY ’20. The current Senate measure only includes $10,000,000 in funding.
Telehealth Package Introduced:
On October 30, a bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced the CONNECT for Health Act, a bill intended to expand payment for telehealth services. The comprehensive telehealth package would remove geographic restrictions on payment for various services, including for virtual mental health treatment.
The bill, S. 2741, would also allow patients to get coverage for treatment they receive at home. The bill would also encourage CMMI to test out a new telehealth payment model for Medicare and allow some restrictions on telehealth coverage to be waived during national and public health emergencies.
The bill was introduced by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and John Thune (R-SD). A companion measure, H.R. 4932, was introduced on the House side by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). While the telehealth package is unlikely to pass as a stand-alone package, a number of provisions from the bill could be advanced in other legislative vehicles. Last Congress a number of provisions included in the CONNECT Act made it into the 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act.
Trio of Rural Health Bills Introduced:
On October 29, three rural health-related bills were introduced in the House.
- R. 4898, the Rural Health Innovation Act, seeks to create two five-year grant programs administered by HRSA. One grant program would expand FQHCs and RHCs capable of meeting the rural community’s urgent and triage needs. Grants would be limited to $500,000 for existing facilities and $750,000 for startup facilities with communities that have lost a hospital in the last seven years having priority.
- R. 4899, the Rural America Health Corps Act, creates a new loan repayment program that ensures practitioners would be eligible for loan repayment on a sliding scale based on the severity of the shortage in that area.
- R. 4900, the Telehealth Across State Lines Act, seeks to create a grant program to incentivize the expansion of effective telehealth programs to reach rural communities.
Companion bills were introduced in the Senate earlier this year by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Earlier this summer, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) indicated the committee may look to advance a more comprehensive rural health bill. Were that to occur, these bills could be in consideration.