Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that he plans to hold a vote as soon as this week on a narrow COVID-19 relief package that leaves out several healthcare industry priorities.
The bill's official unveiling comes as bipartisan talks on a broader package have stalled. The new bill includes liability protections that healthcare providers wanted, but doesn't set aside the additional $100 billion in grants providers had asked for or relax Medicare loan terms, according to text of the proposal. Democrats don't like the proposal, and it is unlikely to advance.
"Today, the Senate Republican majority is introducing a new targeted proposal, focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education and economic issues. It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same," McConnell said in a written statement.
The bill would protect businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19, give states the option to extend reduced additional federal unemployment benefits, open a second round of small-business loans, provide $16 billion for state COVID-19 testing, and set aside $31 billion for vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic development and stockpiling. The bill would also rescind roughly $200 billion of unspent funds that were allocated to the Federal Reserve in prior relief legislation.
Healthcare providers had asked lawmakers to at least relax Medicare loan repayment terms and for $100 billion more to help healthcare providers offset coronavirus-related expenses and lost revenue. CMS has not yet started recouping the Medicare accelerated and advance payments as outlined in statute. A prior GOP relief package would have ensured telehealth flexibilities through at least the end of 2021, but the narrower package does not. Insurers and clinical labs had asked to establish a national fund for testing reimbursement, which was also left out of the narrower proposal.
However, the bill would need at least 60 votes to advance to a Senate floor vote, which is highly unlikely given Democrats' opposition. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the bill doesn't do enough to address problems facing the country and "is headed nowhere."
"If anyone doubts McConnell's true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support," Schumer and Pelosi said in a written statement.
Senate Democrats have previously refused to allow procedural votes on COVID-19 relief packages to advance to extract more concessions from Republicans. But McConnell pointed out that more than 100 House Democrats last month asked Pelosi to consider unemployment insurance benefits separately from other issues.
The sparring occurs weeks before federal government funding expires on Sept. 30.