The U.S. Senate approved a historic $2 trillion rescue plan last night to respond to the economic and health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation now moves to the House for a floor vote expected Friday evening. It is anticipated that this legislation will pass the House with strong bi-partisan support and will be signed into law by President Trump over the weekend. The package provides about $500 billion in loans and assistance for big companies as well as states and cities. For individuals, the package provides direct payments to lower- and middle-income Americans of $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child. Unemployment insurance would be vastly expanded. There is also increased funding for hospitals and health care systems, including health centers. A more extensive summary of this important legislation will be distributed once the bill is signed into law. Specific health center highlights provisions in the final package include:
- $1.32 billion in one-time supplemental funding for health centers to address impact from COVID-19, including retaining staff. BPHC will distribute these funds to health centers using a formula based on the total number of patients and uninsured patients;
- A brief extension of the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF - aka the Health Center Funding Cliff) deadline from May 22nd to November 30, 2020;
- FQHCs now qualify as a distant site under Medicare to provide telehealth services. Unfortunately, the legislation requires that FQHCs be reimbursed FFS rates and NOT PPS for Medicare telehealth services;
- $350 billion for small business loans, including not-for-profit organizations so health centers will likely be eligible; and
- $100 billion for a Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. Health centers will likely be eligible to receive these funds for COVID-19 testing, related services and lost revenue.
While this legislation is a mixed bag and does not address long-term funding for health centers, it is a testament to the tremendous advocacy of health centers from around the country to secure these additional COVID 19 resources to support your health center staff, patients and communities. We want to acknowledge the stellar advocacy response from all Texas health centers under extremely difficult circumstances and give a special shout out to those centers that were extremely responsive and effective in responding to our advocacy calls to action including: Carevide, MEHOP, North Central Texas Community Health Center, and Community Health Center of South Central Texas. Congress is already working on a fourth stimulus package and there will be another opportunity in the next month to get a long-term extension of the CHCF as well as PPS reimbursement under Medicare for telehealth services included in the next package. We have much work left to do, so continued engagement and advocacy efforts with your Member(s) of Congress will be vital. TACHC will work with NACHC and the Texas Health Center Advocacy Taskforce to develop and implement the next wave of advocacy. Keep an eye out for more information on what you can do to support your health center in Congress. Let’s keep the pressure on Congress!