President Donald Trump on Friday signed a law that will give healthcare providers an additional $75 billion in grant money, expand national testing capacity, and refill small business assistance programs.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act 388-5 Thursday evening, after the Senate passed it on Tuesday.
Lawmakers did not include any additional guardrails for how HHS should distribute the new $75 billion for providers, which refills the $100 billion grant program created in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
But according to some analysts, the additional funds still leave providers with a shortfall.
"Although the new funds will further curb some of the industry's losses caused by the suspension of elective services and increased costs to fight the coronavirus, we do not believe it will fully compensate providers, and still expect hospitals to suffer material losses and reductions in cash flow over the coming months," said Dan Steingart, Vice President & Senior Credit Officer at Moody's Investors Service, in a statement.
HHS has announced plans to allocate more than $70 billion, including carveouts for providers in rural areas and COVID-19 hotspots, which lawmakers asked for.
Some of the fund will be used to reimburse providers for coronavirus care for the uninsured, though HHS Secretary Alex Azar declined to say how much the department is setting aside for that purpose. Azar announced Wednesday that additional funding would be targeted toward skilled nursing facilities in COVID-19 hotspots, dentists and providers that only bill Medicaid.
Congress' bipartisan agreement will also allocate $25 billion to expand testing capacity as national and local leaders begin planning to relax social distancing restrictions. Public health experts agree that sufficient testing will be crucial to managing the spread of the coronavirus once widespread lockdowns are lifted. The federal government, states and localities will be required to develop testing plans.
Small business assistance will get a more than $300 billion recharge, including a $60 billion set-aside for businesses without established banking relationships. Some small hospitals and physician practices with fewer than 500 employees may qualify for forgivable loans..
With the stopgap measure signed into law, Congress is already turning to its next larger, more comprehensive relief package.
Healthcare industry has so far asked lawmakers to subsidize COBRA premiums, lower interest rates for Medicare accelerated payments, and set aside funding for primary care and urgent care providers.