While initially speeding out of the gate with a large “Phase 4” recovery bill focused on infrastructure and other Democratic priorities, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a Dear Colleague over the weekend acknowledging that a bipartisan effort is needed to create a “CARES 2” package that will build off the last emergency relief measure – CARES Act (H.R. 748). With public health officials indicating that we’ve just begun to see the beginning stages of this pandemic and unemployment claims soaring, the focus will remain squarely on the crisis.
Speaker Pelosi is calling for the “CARES 2” package to provide more relief – in the form of additional funding and resources for hospitals and community health centers; states and localities; and small businesses; and more generous unemployment benefits and additional direct payments for individuals. Regarding timing, floor action on a “CARES 2” package is not likely until later this month, as Congress is not expected to convene in Washington before April 20. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has embraced more of a wait-and-see approach on additional legislation, he noted the chamber would reconvene “if circumstances require the Senate to return for a vote sooner than April 20.”
In the meantime, lawmakers, including those in the newly formed House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, will continue with “forward looking” oversight of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 that will not focus on the Administration’s initial response to the ongoing public health crisis. Rather, the oversight will focus on the quick implementation of the three relief packages; the Strategic National Stockpile; and the cost of COVID-19 treatment, particularly for the uninsured.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may soon release detailed guidance on how providers and hospitals can use part of the $100 billion federal aid package, appropriated in the CARES Act, to specifically cover COVID-19 care for the uninsured, following the administration’s announcement last Friday. “As a condition of receiving funds under this program, providers will be forbidden from balancing billing the uninsured for the cost of their care. Providers will be reimbursed at Medicare rates,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar.