UPH Government & External Affairs

What to Expect in the COVID-19 “Phase 4” Congressional Package and Federal Update

by | Jul 2, 2020

Congressional leaders continue to work towards a fourth supplemental aid bill directed at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, though Democrats and Republicans have yet to come to an agreement on details of the legislation. Despite indications from both parties that the next bill must be passed before the August recess, Democrats and Republicans have yet to engage in negotiations on what the next package’s size and scope should be. Despite that, UnityPoint Health has continued to advocate for its priorities with the health system’s Congressional delegation on both sides of the aisle.

House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill in mid-May, known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solution (HEROES) Act, which included funding for state and local governments, bolstered testing and contact tracing, would deliver more economic impact payments, extended enhanced unemployment insurance, and created a special enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act exchanges. In addition, the House-passed package included an additional $100 billion for the Provider Relief Fund, which is a priority for UnityPoint Health and has offered a lifeline to hospital systems as they have navigated the pandemic. The package excluded liability protections for reopening businesses, a provision Leader McConnell (R-KY) has designated an essential component in any future package for the GOP.

While House Democrats laid down their priorities for the next supplemental in the HEROES Act, Senate Republicans see it as a non-starter. Although Senate Republicans have not yet unveiled a draft bill, and plans will still likely change in the coming weeks, Leader McConnell and other Republicans have indicated that the following provisions are under consideration: liability protections for reopening businesses and schools, changes to the federal boost to unemployment insurance, extending small business assistance, health care support, more direct relief payments to families, money for higher education institutions, and corporate tax relief. Notably absent from early Senate GOP outlines is robust funding for state and local governments, something both House and Senate Democrats have indicated are crucial. Democrats have continued to push for additional assistance to state, local, and tribal governments, as well as funding for election security, education, and nursing homes. A Senate Republican bill is expected to be released soon with negotiations commencing shortly after, and possible passage of a final bill coming towards the end of July.

Throughout all of this, UnityPoint Health has been engaged with multiple Members of Congress, fighting for its priorities in upcoming legislation. In addition to increased funding in the Provider Relief Fund, which was included in the House-passed COVID package, UnityPoint Health has engaged with members of Congress in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin to urge an extension of improved Medicare reimbursements for telehealth visits, create opportunities for hospitals in rural areas to modernize their infrastructure, and improve retention and recruitment of immigrant physicians who have answered the call to serve in rural or underserved areas. In fact, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (IL) spoke up about this priority on the Senate Floor in June, highlighting UnityPoint Health hospitalist Dr. Parth Mehta in his call for passage of this legislation. Senator Durbin’s floor statement can be viewed here.

The White House has called for capping the next package at $1 trillion, though Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) responded “that doesn’t come anywhere near” addressing the needs. Should a final package be agreed to, expect intense negotiations on liability protections, assistance to state and local governments, extended unemployment insurance, and additional support for health care providers to continue to weather the COVID-19 storm. UnityPoint Health continues to engage in these ongoing negotiations with members of Congress.

For more information about our health system’s efforts related to federal legislation, policies and agencies, please contact: Cathy Simmons, executive director of regulatory affairs at UnityPoint Health, Cathy.Simmons@unitypoint.org.