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AHA asks Biden to extend public health emergency and to be allowed to retain relief funds

The letter's recommendations surround relief, recovery, rebuilding and addressing ongoing challenges in equity, workforce and behavioral health.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty ImagesPhoto by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The American Hospital Association has asked President-elect Joe Biden to extend the public health emergency, which is currently set to expire on January 20, 2021, in a letter sent on Friday.

The AHA requested that providers be allowed to retain Provider Relief Fund dollars by allowing for any reasonable method of calculating COVID-19-related lost revenue, movement of targeted distributions within a system and use of funds for increased staffing costs.

The letter also urged the new administration to protect the 340B drug savings program and require that private plans eliminate administrative and financial barriers to coverage for COVID- 19 testing and treatment.

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The AHA reiterated the need to "quickly and aggressively" end the COVID-19 pandemic and called this "our nation's highest priority."

The letter's recommendations were around relief, recovery, rebuilding and addressing ongoing challenges in areas such as equity, workforce and behavioral health.

AHA began the letter by congratulating Biden for being elected as the 46th President of the United States of America.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

Top of the list is the need for more direct relief to the nation's hospitals and health systems by allowing providers to retain relief funds.

Next up, AHA shared its guidance on recovering from and "coexisting with COVID-19."

The letter stressed the importance of rolling out efforts to capture the millions of individuals who are eligible for, but not enrolled in, some form of subsidized coverage. Further, it asked for the creation of a special enrollment period for the health insurance marketplaces for the duration of the public health emergency.

AHA urged the Biden administration to allow states to delay Medicaid eligibility recertification during the public health emergency. It also suggested implementing a communication effort about vaccine safety, especially among groups who "justifiably mistrust such efforts."

As far as rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic, AHA believes this is an opportunity to reimagine the entire healthcare system into one that "better protects patient access to care, advances affordability, improves quality and patient safety, and truly transforms health care financing and delivery."

Specifically, that will include accelerating the shift to alternative payment models, creating new models for care and staffing, continuing to innovate with technology, and welcoming in a new era of public health preparedness, the letter said.

AHA also created a set of recommendations for the areas of the American healthcare system where the events of 2020 uncovered "a number of vulnerabilities," including health equity, workforce resilience and behavioral healthcare.

Among the asks were the repeal of the June 2020 final rule that narrowed the scope of nondiscrimination protections under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act; providing support for frontline workers by ensuring childcare, housing, PPE and priority access to vaccines; and enforcing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires insurers to use coverage standards for behavioral health conditions comparable to those of medical services.

THE LARGER TREND

AHA has long been advocating for more relief during the pandemic. Earlier this month, it sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar asking for more flexibilities to be granted to providers as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hospitals have continued to ask for more money for the provider relief fund, federal liability protections, support for frontline healthcare workers, coverage for the uninsured and full accelerated payment forgiveness for all hospitals.

Despite these calls for action, Congress continues to go back and forth on passing another relief bill due to bipartisan disagreements.

House Democrats initially passed a $3.4 trillion bill before dropping their price tag to $2.2 trillion in October. Senate Republicans initially offered a $1.1 trillion package before dropping to roughly $500 billion amid pushback from conservatives.

This week a bipartisan group of lawmakers released a $908 billion bill that if passed would be split into two pieces of legislation, according to CNBC.

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org