- The American Hospital Association and The American Nurses Association sent a joint letter Friday to Congressional leaders asking for more funding for both inpatient facilities and front-line healthcare workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are asking for additional money from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
- The two groups requested additional funding to cover the cost of childcare for nurses, physicians and other hospital staff as well as housing and transportation support, enhanced pay, free regular COVID-19 testing and additional survivor benefits.
- AHA and ANA also asked for loan forgiveness for hospitals that received accelerated payments from the Medicare and Medicaid programs; permission for for-profit hospitals to participate in some FEMA funding programs without state contracts; no cap on graduate medical education slots; and increased funding and relaxed regulations for rural and critical access hospitals.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll on providers both at the institutional and individual level. Hospitals have had to set aside elective procedures, which are often the most lucrative part of its business, while those who work inside its walls are risking daily exposure to a virus that that could infect them or family members, potentially putting their lives at risk.
Congress has responded to the crisis by appropriating tens of billions of dollars for both hospitals and their employees — primarily through the CARES Act, which is putting $100 billion into the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund through several payments. CMS has also relaxed numerous regulations. However, many groups are saying it's not enough.
The Senate returned to work Monday, but the House is not in session. And Senate Republicans reportedly are not rushing to pass additional COVID-19 emergency relief legislation.
In New York, the state's nursing association sued two hospitals and the New York State Department of Health last month alleging dangerous working conditions. And hospitals and other healthcare providers, which tend to run low-margin businesses, have laid off thousands of workers and made other cost-cutting measures to keep their doors open.
Clawing these proposed provisions back after the pandemic ends may be difficult, particularly for free child care and enhanced pay for front-line workers, and the two seemed to push for these benefits to extend even after the worst is over.
"Essential front-line workers, including nurses and physicians, deserve support both during and after this crisis," the letter stated.
On the AHA side, its requests that for-profit hospitals be allowed to participate in FEMA funding programs without state contracts, that the caps on GME slots be lifted, for an increase in outlier payments and extended diagnosis-related group add-ons to long-term facilities appeared to be open-ended — and some items have been on the trade group's wish list for many years.
The letter did ask that a bar on Medicaid funding for patients under 65 who are treated at a mental health facility with more than 16-beds — the so-called Institutions for Mental Diseases exclusion — be lifted for only a year.
An AHA spokesperson said there were no specific dollar figure tied to the requests.
The letter also asked that funding be expanded for the uninsured without raiding the Public Health and Social Services fund. Last week, AHA joined America's Health Insurance Plans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to suggest ways to expand coverage options for the uninsured, warning that using CARES Act funding "will quickly deplete the Emergency Fund and not provide the benefits of comprehensive coverage."