Senate approves COVID-19 stimulus package with $100B for hospitals

The Senate passed an unrivaled $2 trillion stimulus package late Wednesday with $100 billion to provide a lifeline to the nation’s struggling hospitals coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The American Hospital Association said it supports the bill as it will help providers on the front lines respond to COVID-19. The bill creates an emergency fund for hospitals, a provision they had been pleading for, and it also includes a 20% hike in Medicare reimbursement for hospitals that care for COVID-19 patients. The bill also carves out $1.3 billion for 1,400 community health centers across the country and $16 billion for the national stockpile of emergency medical supplies.

The legislation, which is expected to pass the House of Representatives on Friday and be signed by President Donald Trump, comes as the U.S. passed a grim milestone, topping 1,000 deaths with more than 69,000 confirmed cases, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

“This support will help those hospitals from rural and urban communities that are in dire financial need due to this devastating pandemic,” AHA said in a statement Wednesday.

Still, despite the enormous size of the relief package, hospital leaders warn more will be needed.

“While this legislation is an important first step forward, more will need to be done to deal with the unprecedented challenge of this virus,” AHA said.

The bill relaxes pre-planned spending cuts by delaying a decrease to Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments, which are used to reimburse safety-net hospitals.

Insurers will be on the hook for covering a coronavirus vaccine, without requiring any cost-sharing. The vaccine has yet to be developed though it is in the early stages of development. The language of the bill also has insurers responsible for covering any preventative service that could mitigate the spread of the disease.

“We will continue to work with policymakers on effective solutions that strengthen coverage and help the American people get through this crisis,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said in a statement Wednesday, expressing “100%” backing for the bill.

The relief package also seeks to somewhat regulate the price of the testing and reimbursement. The bill requires that the provider of the testing publicly release the cash price for the test. Insurers that do not yet have a negotiated rate with a testing provider can pay the cash rate or negotiate for less.

Testing providers could be hit with fines for being out of compliance, though the fines are just $300 per day for each day out of compliance. 

The bill also tackles telehealth issues as the industry ramps up to the cater to the demand. Barriers to telehealth have been eased in the bill, mainly the Medicare requirement that an in-person visit is scheduled prior to the start of any virtual encounter. The measure was applauded by the Connected Health Initiative, an advocacy group of the industry.

“Telehealth and remote patient monitoring are already proving to be critical tools in the fight against COVID-19, but the new provisions in the Senate CARES Act will ensure even America’s most medically and economically vulnerable can benefit,” the group said in a statement.

It’s the third piece of major legislation Congress has considered related to COVID-19, following an $8.3 billion funding bill earlier this month and a bill signed into law last week that further addressed preparedness and response. Leaders in Congress have already discussed a fourth bill. as the pandemic worsens.

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