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Senate Introduces Next COVID Package

Senate Introduces Next COVID Package

On Monday, July 27th, Senate Republicans rolled out a fourth COVID-19 stimulus package totaling at just under $1 trillion. The package is titled the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protections & Schools) Act and was introduced through a series of individual bills. This package was released in response to the HEROES Act, the COVID-19 stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives this past May. To read our summary of the HEROES Act, click here.

There are several differences between the two packages, which has led to ongoing negotiations over the past two weeks, with few signs of an agreement coming together soon. Due to the lack of agreement, the Administration recently issued several Executive Orders and other directives to contrast with Congress’ inaction. Despite these actions by the Administration, it is expected that negotiations will continue in Congress to hopefully find agreement on another stimulus package soon.  We will continue to share updates as they become available.

What’s Included in the HEALS Act?

The Senate package was negotiated by the White House and Senate Republican leadership prior to the bill’s introduction. While this package does not reflect what the final bill will look like, it includes several provisions important to health centers, including:

$7.6 Billion in Emergency Funding for Community Health Centers

Like the HEROES Act, the HEALS Act includes an additional $7.6 billion for health centers ongoing COVID related needs. The language specifies that the funding can also be used to support “alteration, renovation, construction, equipment, and other capital improvement costs, and including funding to support, maintain, or increase health center capacity and staffing levels, as necessary, to meet the needs of areas affected by coronavirus.”

 

What’s Missing: We are grateful to see that this additional funding for health centers included in the Senate introduced bill – this will provide much needed support and stability for health centers in the months ahead. However, the bill does not allow for health center look-alikes to be eligible for this additional funding. We are continuing to advocate that health center look-alikes be included among those eligible for the $7.6 billion of emergency COVID-19 funds, as included in the HEROES Act.

 

Extension of Medicare Telehealth Flexibilities for FQHCs and RHCs

The HEALS Act includes an extension of the provision included in the CARES Act which allowed FQHCs and RHCs to be authorized for Medicare reimbursement as distant sites in visits provided via telehealth. The HEALS Act allows for health centers to continue to serve as Medicare “distant sites” for five years following the end of the Public Health Emergency.

 

What’s missing: While we are appreciative of this extension, health centers will continue to be paid for these services at the modified reimbursement amount as included in the CARES Act, rather than what the health center would receive if the service was furnished in the health center, or the Medicare PPS rate. Through ongoing advocacy, we continue to ask for the inclusion of health centers’ Medicare PPS payment for telehealth visits as this package is negotiated.

 

Additional Funding for the Provider Relief Fund

The HEALS Act includes an additional $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which would bring the total allocation for this fund to $200 billion. In contrast, the HEROES Act included an additional $100 billion for this fund.

What Else Do Health Centers Want to See in this Next Bill?

NACHC and health center advocates continue to press the importance of the requests included in health centers’ fourth COVID request, as detailed here. Specific to this request and additional needs that have arisen during this time, we’ve highlighted below the ongoing needs of health centers:

 

Long-Term Mandatory Funding:

Health centers continue to ask that Congress secure five years of long-term, stable funding before the November 30th deadline. It has been almost an entire year since our initial mandatory funding deadline on September 30th, 2019. During this time – and throughout each short-term extension of the Community Health Center Fund, the National Health Service Corps and the Teaching Health Centers Program – it has only become clearer with each passing day how necessary health centers and these programs are to the most vulnerable communities in the country, and how necessary it is that they are guaranteed stability that a long-term extension of this funding will provide.

 

Changes to the Paycheck Protection Program:

The HEROES Act included a provision to allow nonprofits, including health centers, with over 500 employees to be eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. Many of the larger health centers, often in high impact areas, have not received the support that the Paycheck Protection Program has afforded health centers with under 500 employees. We continue to advocate that the final bill includes the HEROES Act provision to allow the larger health centers to be eligible for this additional support.

Additional Support for the National Health Service Corps and Other Workforce Programs:

The recently introduced Strengthening America’s Health Care Readiness Act, S. 4055, would provide $5 billion in emergency supplemental funding to the National Health Service Corps, $1 million for the Nurse Corps program and creates an “Emergency Service Corps for Surge Capacity,” which would expand the NHSC to allow members to serve in emergency capacities through the National Disaster Medical System. Given the ongoing need for NHSC providers, particularly during this time, the investment that this bill makes in the NHSC would grow the program in a way that reflects this ongoing need.

Thank YOU!

As always, we are so grateful for the efforts of our advocates. The inclusion of emergency funding for health centers in both proposed packages is a major accomplishment, and there is no way we would have gotten it done without you. At this point, the apparent stalemate between the Senate and the House of Representatives leaves us – along with many others – waiting. It is essential that we continue reaching out to our Members of Congress in both the House and the Senate to remind them of our priorities and how crucial it is that this fourth package is passed in a timely manner. Once again, thank you for all that you do.

 

For any questions regarding the specifics of any proposed legislation, please contact federalaffairs@nachc.org.