Providers have compiled a laundry list of requests for lawmakers to help hospitals and healthcare workers prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients.
Congress is beginning negotiations on its third major legislative package to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It appears the bill will originate in the Senate, where leaders on both sides have said they want to provide support to frontline healthcare workers.
"The foundational priority is to continue providing all the support that our medical professionals need as they fight this new virus on the front lines," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday morning.
Suspending Medicare sequestration cuts
The American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges on Sunday asked lawmakers to suspend Medicare sequestration cuts, which reduce payments for most benefits by 2%. The groups argue that Medicare payments fall below the cost of care.
"This action alone will provide immediate, significant relief across-the-board, and will signal continued Congressional support for the hard work that lies ahead for all of us," the hospital groups said.
FAH President and CEO Chip Kahn said part of the reasoning behind rolling back sequestration is that it would have immediate impact.
Maintaining staffing levels
FAH and the Greater New York Hospital Association have asked Congress to provide funding for child care for healthcare workers to ensure employees can still report to work even when schools close. AHA, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association and FAH also asked for direct funding to support higher staffing levels. Healthcare staffing companies have already begun fielding more requests as COVID-19 cases surge.
Funding for protective equipment
Purchasing personal protective equipment for staff is another priority, according to the AHA and FAH. Kahn said that PPE is a concern for keeping staff safe in an impending surge.
"Congress does need to ensure we get access to the equipment that is in the stockpiles, and there are some areas that are in shortage now," Kahn said.
Hospitals are concerned that their revenue will take a hit when they serve more uninsured individuals and have to delay high-margin procedures, so they are asking Congress for relief funding. GNYHA is also requesting that hospitals be eligible for low-cost loan assistance up to $10 million.
GNYHA asked Congress to delay cuts to Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital payments and community health centers have asked for a two-year funding extension. Both items were previously considered to be included in a healthcare extenders package with a deadline of May 22, but could be considered in earlier legislation.
FAH also asked to ensure that funding associated with President Donald Trump's national emergency declaration can be used by for-profit hospitals, which are currently not able to receive them. The group also recommended that enrollment be re-opened for healthcare insurance exchanges, that insurers be required to cover treatment for COVID-19, and that CMS' Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Rule be stopped.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the Association of American Medical Colleges.