July 31, 2020
Senate Republicans have released details of their version of the fourth COVID-19 relief package, known as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act. The package of bills addresses a broad range of issues, including medical supply chain problems, reopening schools and restaurant worker support.
The health care specific provisions of the republican proposal would:
- Extend repayment terms under the Medicare Accelerated and Advanced Payment Program, delaying the start of the repayment period from 120 to 270 days after receipt of funds and extending the length of the repayment period from 12 to 18 months.
- Increase the Public Health Services Emergency Fund established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act by $25 billion.
- Create an exclusive federal cause of action for coronavirus medical liability claims, under which health care providers would be liable only for coronavirus-related injuries caused by gross negligence or willful misconduct.
- Expand access to the Paycheck Protection Program to 501(c)(6) entities, which would include many professional health associations such as state medical societies and national specialty societies, and other program improvements.
- Authorize Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend waivers and other telehealth policies through 2021.
- Maintain Medicare Part B beneficiary premiums at 2020 rates through 2021.
- Require all personal protective equipment purchases for the National Strategic Stockpile to come from domestic suppliers whenever possible; state stockpiles of medical products and supplies would be established and supported by a $1 billion annual appropriation through 2030.
- Provide $16 billion for testing, contact tracing and other COVID-19-related public health activities.
The total cost of the package is approximately $1 trillion, about one-third of the amount that would be provided by the House-passed HEROES Act.
This legislative package represents an initial offering by Senate Republican leadership. It will likely undergo significant revisions prior to debate on the Senate floor. Since various COVID-19 relief programs expired at the end of July, Congress faces pressure to send a final bipartisan package to the President for signature prior to adjourning for recess on August 10.