House Democrats unveiled a scaled-back version of their COVID-19 relief package Monday evening that includes $50 billion in new grant funds for healthcare providers.
House Democrats and the White House have resurrected stimulus talks, though it's unclear whether either side will accept meaningful concessions after months of stalemate. Pelosi's $2.2 trillion package is still more expensive than the GOP has said it will accept.
The original version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act that the House passed in May had an additional $100 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which is designed to help healthcare providers make up lost revenue and expenses due to the coronavirus. The new bill cuts that funding in half, but retains the additional application requirements from the prior version.
HHS still has not distributed a significant chunk of the $175 billion Congress has already set aside, and CMS Administrator Seema Verma recently told Modern Healthcare the agency is intentionally withholding funds in case needs evolve. HHS recently capped the amount that providers can claim from the fund for lost revenue.
Other healthcare provisions in House Democrats' new bill include increasing additional Medicaid matching funds to 14% from the current 6%, increasing hospitals' disproportionate-share hospital payments by 2.5%, $238 billion to assist state governments squeezed by the economic downturn, $75 billion for testing and contact tracing, $7.6 billion for community health centers and $28 billion for COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution, including ensuring that Medicare would pay for a vaccine with no cost-sharing even if it were only given an emergency use authorization.
The bill would also clarify that all coronavirus testing must be provided with no out-of-pocket costs regardless of the circumstances of the tests. HHS would also have to survey healthcare providers about the cash prices they charge for COVID-19 tests.
The measure tweaks Democrats' strategy to preserve health coverage by ensuring unemployed Americans automatically receive the maximum ACA subsidy on the exchanges, instead of providing a 100% subsidy to keep recently unemployed people on their employer-sponsored plans. The bill would create a new Medicaid eligibility pathway that would allow states to cover COVID-19 treatment and vaccinations for uninsured people with no cost-sharing.
Democrats' offer is still a partisan proposal and includes provisions that Republicans don't like, such as instructing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard for employers' infection control practices.
It also excludes GOP priorities such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) liability shield legislation that would protect hospitals, businesses, schools, and universities against potential lawsuits that reopen during the pandemic.
Even if Democrats' new offer doesn't lead to a bipartisan deal, holding a vote on the bill gives House Democrats in competitive re-election races more recent action to campaign on.