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Senate passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, without additional hospital funding

The American Rescue Plan doesn't include funding for hospitals or loan forgiveness, which was requested by the AHA.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

The Senate passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan on Saturday, with amendments, the biggest being no plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The American Rescue Plan also doesn't include relief funding for hospitals or loan forgiveness, which wasn't in the House bill but was requested by the American Hospital Association.

"The AHA is disappointed that the bill does not deliver more overall funding for the Provider Relief Fund, which has been crucial in supplying hospitals, health systems and other providers with resources during the pandemic," said Rick Pollack, AHA president and CEO. "We are also concerned that this bill does not include an extension of relief from Medicare sequester cuts, which will go back into effect at the beginning of next month, and also fails to provide loan forgiveness for Medicare accelerated payments for hospitals." 

WHY THIS MATTERS

The AHA wanted more relief funding to help offset losses sustained during the pandemic, such as the $100 billion earmarked for hospitals in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
 
The legislation does include provisions to help hospitals and health systems provide care to their patients and communities, Pollack said. These include measures to increase access to health coverage for those who lose insurance or are uninsured. It also makes critical investments to bolster the nation's COVID-19 response, with resources for vaccines, treatment, testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment and workforce development.

Additionally, the bill expands eligibility and provides more resources for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has helped save jobs in the hospital field, he said. 

"Importantly, the bill will help provide much-needed relief for rural hospitals, many of which came into the pandemic on the brink of closure but play an indispensable role in providing care to their communities," Pollack said.

WHAT THE BILL DOES

The Senate vote Saturday was along party lines, 50-49.

Speaking Saturday, President Biden said promised help was on the way. The United States has lost 519,064 Americans to the virus, he said.

The bill includes funding for more vaccinations and vaccination sites, Biden said.

"The resources of this plan will be used to expand and speed up manufacturing and distribution of vaccines so we can get every single American vaccinated sooner than later," Biden said.

There will be enough of the vaccine to vaccinate every American by the middle of May, though it will take longer to get shots into arms, Biden said.

Unemployment benefits have been expanded for 11 million Americans whose unemployment insurance was about to expire.

The American Rescue Plan lowers healthcare premiums, Biden said.

"This plan puts us on a path to beating the virus," Biden said.

The bill now goes back to the House for approval, which is expected on Tuesday. It will then go to Biden for his signature before a March 14 deadline to renew unemployment. Americans should start receiving their $1,400 checks this month.

The legislation includes direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans, a $300 weekly boost to jobless benefits into September and an expansion of the child tax credit for one year. It also puts new funding into COVID-19 vaccine distribution and testing, rental assistance for struggling households and K-12 schools for reopening costs, according to CNBC.

THE LARGER TREND

Biden said last week that all Americans who want to be vaccinated should be able to get one by the end of May, two months ahead of schedule.

This is due largely to a partnership between Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine just received emergency use authorization, Merck and the federal government ramping up manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccine by Merck opening its manufacturing facilities to J&J.
 

Twitter: @SusanJMorse
Email the writer: susan.morse@himssmedia.com