On Monday evening, March 23, the Senate COVID-19 (coronavirus) stimulus package remained stalled. A procedural vote to advance the Senate bill Monday afternoon failed and negotiations remain ongoing.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a Democratic coronavirus stimulus plan in response to the Senate bill including more robust relief for individuals and providers and more targeted aid to state and local governments. The Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act released by the Speaker Nancy Pelosi includes the following:
Support for Insurers: Health plans would be required to fully cover coronavirus treatments without cost sharing and would be reimbursed for their patients’ cost-sharing amounts. The Exchanges provide a special enrollment period to allow consumers another opportunity to enroll in private health insurance and the government would compensate companies experiencing steep losses as a result of the pandemic. The House bill also includes a ban on short-term plans and a risk corridors program if insurers experience steep losses. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments relating the ACA’s risk corridors program in November.
Support for Providers: The proposal would provide more than $150 billion to hospitals and community health centers to cover coronavirus-related expenses, compared to the $75 billion the Senate bill would make available to hospitals. Hospitals would get an additional $80 billion in low-interest loans.
Access to Medicines: Medicare Advantage plans would be required to eliminate barriers to accessing COVID-19 treatment services like prior authorization requirements, which the Senate bill does not provide. As of yet, no medication has been approved for treating COVID-19.
Protecting Health Workers: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would be required to issue “an emergency temporary standard to protect from occupational exposure” to the coronavirus. This would apply to healthcare workers, first responders like firefighters and paramedics, and anyone identified by the CDC as having an elevated risk of infection. Employers would be required to develop a “comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan.” Unions representing healthcare providers have lobbied Congress for these kinds of measures to address the shortage of protective gear for frontline healthcare workers.
Telehealth: The House bill does not include a measure for Medicare to pay for telehealth visits for new patients during the pandemic, but would provide for a temporary increase in federal Medicaid funding for programs covering telehealth. Another provision in the House bill would include $330 million for a telephonic and virtual care system that providers and telehealth companies may use to treat patients.
Test Reporting Requirements: States and local governments, labs, and health systems would be required to report real-time testing data of both positive and negative results for COVID-19. The provision also would require specific details from severe outcomes be reported, which public health researchers have argued is necessary to better understand how COVID-19 is affecting different patient populations.