Senate's Covid-19 package tees up fight over Medicaid funding, hospital bailout

Senate’s Covid-19 package tees up fight over Medicaid funding, hospital bailout

Testing funding makes it in

More dollars for coronavirus testing had appeared in jeopardy after the White House pushed Republicans to zero out funding. But as testing delays grew, Republicans rejected the demand and are including $16 billion more for testing, contact tracing and surveillance. Combined with money left over from previous relief packages, there would be $25 billion available for the public health measures. However, that number is well short of the $75 billion Democrats have pitched for those efforts.

A boost for virtual care

The pandemic’s telehealth boom would live on. The legislation would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to continue expansive telehealth policies through at least the end of 2021. And for federally qualified health centers and rural health clinics, those policies can be extended for another five years after the coronavirus emergency ends.

Some telehealth advocates have been urging Congress to make more permanent changes to telehealth coverage in the newest relief package. But it appears lawmakers don’t want to commit to more sweeping changes until they’ve done further review of the technology, which took off practically overnight as lockdown measures went into place.

Hospitals get protection from malpractice lawsuits

Coronavirus-related liability protections were a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well as hospitals. The bill would broadly shield hospitals and medical professionals from malpractice lawsuits around Covid-19, while capping damages. Hospital groups say legal risks have been a major barrier to resuming elective surgeries.

More leeway on hefty Medicare loans

Hospitals and physicians would also get more time to pay back Medicare for loans they’ve received to keep their doors open. Some hospital and physician groups have begged for total forgiveness of these loans, which have totaled more than $100 billion and are separate from the bailout funds Congress provided. Others have said they need more time to repay the government as they deal with the financial strain from Covid-19. The Senate package would give them a few more months to start repaying the loans on Jan. 1.

Tucker Doherty, David Lim, Susannah Luthi, Mohana Ravindranath and Rachel Roubein contributed to this report.

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