Before leaving Washington for the Memorial Day recess, Congress sent to the White House a sweeping $4.6 billion bioterrorism bill that would provide funding for hospitals and medical centers in cases of disaster.
The bill provided more substantial funding for hospitals than had earlier versions. States would receive $520 million in grants for hospitals, clinics, health centers and primary-care providers to increase emergency preparedness. An additional $1.1 billion for education and healthcare training would be divided among the states, with each getting at least $5 million.
Roslyne Schuman, a senior policy director at the American Hospital Association, called the bill a step in the right direction. "Any way funding can get to hospitals to support the community is great for us," she said. "It's a continued investment in community readiness."
Under the bill, the HHS secretary would have authority to issue emergency waivers of federal law and regulations, including those pertaining to the transfer of patients and state medical licensing. However, the bill does not allow for a waiver for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a provision provider groups had wanted.
The provisions would help two problem areas identified last fall, Schuman said. On Sept. 11, physicians attending a conference in New York City were uncertain whether they could treat victims of the terrorist attacks because they did not have licenses to practice in New York. In addition, when patients fearing anthrax contamination visited emergency rooms in the Washington area, they could not be sent to designated centers for nasal swabs because of federal patient-dumping laws, she said.
The bill also would provide funding for providers to receive training certification from medical specialty organizations. It would fund a training curriculum developed by a task force made up of healthcare groups including the AHA and the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Provisions affecting Medicare+Choice plans also were added to the bill. The deadline for plans to report to HHS on Medicare benefits, premiums, cost sharing and supplemental benefits would be changed from July 1 to the second Monday in September for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004. Annual election periods for Medicare enrollees to select a plan also would be delayed.