April 21, 2020
Today the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan “Interim Economic Relief” agreement that contains $485 billion in new COVID-19 pandemic funding assistance. This bill contains an additional $75 billion specifically earmarked for physicians and hospitals, $310 billion for small businesses, as well as $25 billion for COVID-19 testing. The U.S. House of Representatives will take up the legislation on Thursday.
The California Medical Association(CMA) aggressively advocated for Congress to provide more direct funding to physician practices, as well as to replenish the depleted Small Business Association (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program that provides forgivable loans to physician practices to cover operating expenses. With the package expected to pass the House on Thursday, physicians are encouraged, if they haven’t already done so, to contact their banks/lenders as soon as possible to ensure they are in line for the new funding once approved.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was instrumental in ensuring there was an additional $75 billion for physicians and hospitals in the latest bill. The $75 billion will be added to the existing $100 billion in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Health and Emergency Fund, which provides lump sum payments to physicians for lost revenue from all payors. This is money that does not have to be repaid. HHS will issue new guidance on how and when the $75 billion will be distributed.
While Speaker Pelosi also sought to include $150 billion in additional funding for states and a reduction in the Medicare Advance Payment Program’s 10% interest rate, there is now bipartisan agreement to address those issues in the CARES 2 legislation Congress plans to take-up in early May.
“CMA is grateful to Speaker Pelosi and congressional leaders for recognizing the dire financial need to shore-up physician practices, both large and small so that they are available to care for patients before, during and after the surge,” said CMA President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D. “We also appreciate the commitment to testing, which is key to protecting the public health and reopening the economy. “
The legislation includes an additional $310 billion for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), after the program exhausted the original $350 billion in funding within two weeks. PPP loans are forgivable if physicians spend 75% of the loan on payroll. $50 billion is set aside for the existing SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program and another $10 billion in EIDL Advance Grants that do not need to be repaid. (For more information on these programs, see CMA’s COVID-19 Financial Toolkit for Medical Practices.)
The legislation also requires a national strategic plan for testing that will focus on increasing testing capacity, including testing supplies. The $25 billion is specifically intended for research, development, validation, manufacture, purchase and expanded capacity for COVID-19 tests. $11 billion of this funding is set-aside for states.
For more details, see CMA's legislative summary.