U.S. Senate GOP Releases COVID-19 Relief Bill

July 28, 2020

Late Monday, U.S. Senate Republicans announced the release of their proposal for the next COVID-19 relief legislation. The roughly $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act focuses on reopening schools, improving the economy and “winning the healthcare fight against the virus.”

IHA’s Take: The HEALS Act represents a critical next step in responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. IHA applauds the strong liability protections included in the package; however, we will be working with the Illinois Congressional delegation over the coming days to improve key provisions of the bill, including increasing funding for hospitals and making significant improvements to the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program.

Among numerous other provisions, the HEALS Act:

  • Provides an additional $25 billion for the Provider Relief Fund (the American Hospital Association recently asked Congress for an additional $100 billion);   
  • Directs $16 billion for testing and contract tracing in states;   
  • Establishes specific healthcare liability protections, including:   
    • Creating an exclusive federal cause of action for medical liability claims against providers (facilities, administrators, doctors, nurses and volunteers);   
    • Requiring plaintiffs to demonstrate gross negligence or willful misconduct by a defendant; and
  • Pre-emption of state laws, while allowing states to impose further liability protections.   
  • Adjusts repayment terms for the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Programs by extending the start of the loan repayment to 270 days (currently 120 days), and extending the period of repayment before interest begins to 18 months (currently 12 months);
  • Extends telehealth flexibilities, including:   
    • Providing the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) with authority to extend Medicare telehealth waivers through the duration of the public health emergency or December 2021, whichever is later; and     
    • Extending for five years beyond the end of the public health emergency the allowance for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) to serve as distant sites.           
  • Improves medical supply chain stability by supporting on-shore manufacturing of medical supplies, improving identification of specific supply needs, and strengthening the Strategic National Stockpile and establishing state stockpiles;   
  • Modernizes infectious disease data collection and authorizes a network of ten regional Centers for Public Health Preparedness to support state and local health departments, healthcare coalitions and the public; and  
  • Provides additional assistance to small businesses, including   
    • $190 billion of new funds to support the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and allowing for “Second Draw Loans” (in order to qualify for a second PPP loan, borrowers must have no more than 300 employees and demonstrate at least a 50 percent loss in gross revenues.); and   
    • Improvements to original PPP loans such as expansion of the list of forgivable expenses and expanding eligibility to include certain 501(c)(6) organizations.

Bipartisan negotiations on the next relief package began yesterday, and final legislation must garner enough Democratic support to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance in the Senate and be approved by the U.S. House. A list of IHA priorities for the next legislative package is here; an Advocacy Alert here; and IHA President & CEO A.J. Wilhelmi’s recent letter to the Congressional delegation urging action on critical hospital priorities here.