Now that Joe Biden has been inaugurated, the President is looking to act quickly on a $1.9T COVID-19 relief plan that will significantly impact hospitals and other providers.
Soon after the crowds disperse from the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, newly minted President Joe Biden will be working to enact a roughly $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that will impact hospitals and other healthcare providers fighting the virus.
Unveiled last week, Biden’s plan for combating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic centers on rebuilding the economy during the middle of a “once-in-several generational economic crisis within a once-in-several generation public health crisis.”
To do this, Biden has proposed the American Rescue Plan, a strategy focused on tackling the pandemic and getting direct financial assistance to Americans in need, including $2,000 in relief payments to individuals and additional unemployment benefits.
The plan also includes key provisions that will have a significant effect on the healthcare providers on the frontlines of the pandemic, if the plan is able to garner enough bipartisan support to pass.
HEALTHCARE PROVISIONS IN THE COVID-19 RELIEF PLAN
Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan focuses heavily on responding immediately to the pandemic and getting shots in arms, which relies on a coordinated health system response.
But the plan also has other implications for hospitals and health systems, including new coverage policies.
COVID-19 HEALTH SYSTEM RESPONSE
There are nine key components to Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan that will impact the health system’s response to the ongoing pandemic, according to the American Hospital Association.
In a special bulletin to members, the Association identified the components as the development of a $20 billion national vaccine program; a $50 billion allocation to expand testing capabilities; funding for the public health workforce; funding for expanding care access for underserved populations and addressing health disparities; resources and support for congregate settings; a $30 billion allocation for increasing the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other items; purchase of COVID-19 treatments; implementation of an occupational safety COVID-19 protection standard; and COVID-19 surveillance.
AHA especially applauded the plan’s “much-needed additional funding to significantly scale up vaccine distribution and administration,” the Association’s president and CEO Rick Pollack said in a statement.
Biden’s plan to bolster vaccination includes community vaccination centers and mobile vaccination units. It also clarifies that the vaccine will be available to all Americans, regardless of immigration status, and will provide coverage of the administration fee.
AHA also commended Biden’s proposals to side aside funding for COVID-19 testing and surveillance, as well as the purchase of PPE and other supplies, so hospitals and health systems can continue to protect their workforce and give COVID-19 patients access to therapeutics, Pollack said.
HEALTH COVERAGE PROVISIONS
In addition to the health system’s response to COVID, Biden’s plan also includes provisions that would impact healthcare coverage for Americans.
Two in five working-age adults did not have stable health coverage in the first half of 2020 because of job and coverage instability spurred on by the pandemic, the Commonwealth Fund reports. Without adequate coverage, providers face potentially greater uncompensated care costs, that is if sick patients even choose to come in for care without insurance.
Biden plans to close gaps in coverage by providing some level of COBRA subsidy through September 2021 and increasing the value of and eligibility for subsidies in the Health Insurance Marketplaces, ensuring enrollees will not pay more than 8.5 percent of their income for coverage.
This plan “preserves and expands access to coverage for millions of Americans,” according to AAMC president and CEO David J. Skorton, MD.
AAMC also highlighted Biden’s proposal to allocate $20 billion for care provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs and $4 billion to expand access to mental health and substance use disorder services.
Some of the nearly $1.9 trillion in the COVID-19 relief plan will go toward healthcare. Chief among the healthcare investments is a $350 billion allocation in emergency funding to state, local, and territorial governments to support pandemic response efforts, including supporting front line public workers, distributing the vaccine, expanding testing, reopening schools, and maintaining other vital services.
The plan would also commit $20 billion to support tribal government responses to the pandemic.
Additionally, the plan calls for $4 billion for behavioral health resources and $800 million for programs that aim to reduce gender-based violence, the AHA highlighted.
OTHER PROVISIONS IMPACTING PROVIDERS
There are some non-healthcare-specific provisions in Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan that will also impact provider organizations as employers of a growing workforce.
According to the AHA, hospitals and health systems should be aware of a proposed extension and expansion of COVID-19 pandemic-related paid leave included in Biden’s plan. The plan proposes to extend through September 2021 paid leave made available under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Biden’s plan would also increase the amount of leave to 14 weeks and apply the requirement to more employers, including organizations with over 500 employees, the Association explained. The plan would finance the paid leave through tax credits for employers with less than 500 employees.
Additionally, the plan aims to provide frontline workers with hazard pay.
Biden also wants to increase financial support for small businesses, including physician practices. The plan proposes to allocate $15 billion in grants to the hardest hit small businesses and $35 billion to state, local, tribal, and non-profit small business financing program.
WHAT THE PLAN LEAVES OUT
While healthcare industry groups are praising Biden for releasing the COVID-19 relief plan, many stakeholders are still looking for more support during the pandemic.
“While we thank President-elect Biden for many of the policies in this plan, we continue to believe that more must be done to aid our response to the pandemic, including more support for hospitals and health systems through the Provider Relief Fund,” Pollack said in the AHA’s reaction to the plan.
Additionally, AAMC leader Skorton called on Congress to “pass legislation that ensures health care providers and scientists have the resources necessary to serve patients and communities during this public health crisis.”
“The health care workforce and researchers at the nation’s teaching hospitals and medical schools are being pushed to the limit as they continue to define the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Skorton stated.
Biden himself acknowledges that the COVID-19 relief plan is “aggressive” and will require support from both aisles to pass. But with the recent election in Georgia giving Democrats a slight advantage in Congress, the President has inched closer to his goal.
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