HealthCare Roundtable e-News – June 3, 2020

White House Looks to Ban Surprise Billing, Include Policy in Next COVID Stimulus Package

The White House announced last week that it will look to include policies protecting patients against surprise billing in the government’s next coronavirus stimulus package by banning surprise billing outright. The administration is pushing Congress to ban surprise bills instead of stipulating who pays thousands of dollars for out of network care and emergency services throughout the pandemic.

Surprise billing had been a widely discussed topic on the Hill in the last year, with the global pandemic curtailing most progress and forcing the government to install temporary measures instead. In earlier stimulus packages, Congress agreed to cover the cost of COVID-19 testing while the Trump administration agreed to block providers that accept any part of a $175 billion industry bailout fund from sending unexpected bills to coronavirus patients.

While no formal legislative text or cost estimate has been released for the White House’s bid, the Congressional Budget Office has advised aids through informal guidance that the plan would raise premiums by driving up provider rates. Senate HELP Committee Minority Leader Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who had previously worked with Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) last year on developing a plan that tackles surprise billing, signaled cost concerns could discourage the White House’s plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) included provisions in the most recent stimulus package banning surprise billing, which Senate Leadership had opposed. The House-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act would make the $100 billion allocated to providers contingent on not surprise billing patients. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Senate Democrats Look to Add Affordable Health Care Expansions to Next Stimulus Bill

Senate leadership recently introduced a COVID-19 response bill that aims to provide affordable health coverage to Americans during the pandemic. The bill includes several provisions from the House-passed HEROES bill, including some that did not make it into the House bill: enhancing Affordable Care Act tax credits, reversing the expansion of short-term plans and offering states that expand Medicaid three years of full federal funding.

The bill includes Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s (D-N.H.) Improving Health Insurance Affordability Act, which would remove the 400% of poverty threshold for ACA premium tax credits and limit the income contribution for all Americans to 12.5% of income. Additionally, the bill will look to cover all costs for COVID-19 treatments. (InsideHealthPolicy)

“With the nation’s health care system reeling under the unprecedented strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hard-hit American families struggling with the health and financial consequences, Senate Democrats are pushing a bold and multipronged public health care response to the crisis,” said Senate Democrats in a draft version of the proposal. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The bill also calls for robust subsidies for COBRA with additional provisions requiring the federal government pay 100% of Medicaid costs for the first three years after any state expands the program.

HHS Distributes $11B in Funds for COVID Testing to States, Territories and Tribes

HHS announced last month that it would be sending $11 billion in funding to states, territories and tribes across the country to support coronavirus testing, contract tracing, and quarantining efforts as these areas look to reopen in the coming weeks. $10.25 billion of the funds is from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, and the rest is from the Indian Health Services.

“We must help Americans get safely back to work and school, and that requires continued expansion of testing, surveillance, and contact tracing. The Trump Administration stands ready to support and guide states in their life-saving work to combat the virus and reopen our country,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement regarding the agency’s funding plan.

Governors and designees of each State, locality, territory, tribe, or tribal organization receiving funds are encouraged to submit to HHS its plan for COVID-19 testing and resource usage for 2020 to receive the funds, according to the CDC. In addition to states, territories and tribes, several cities and counties will also be eligible to submit plans for additional funding, including New York City, Los Angeles County, Chicago, and other coronavirus hot spots. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Biden Calls for ACA Expansions Amid Protests, Pandemic

Former Vice President Joe Biden said the widespread protests across the country during an uncontrolled pandemic demonstrate why the United States should extend health coverage to more Americans via a public option and not eliminate the Affordable Care Act, as the Trump administration says it wants to do.

The presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee said health equity is a form of racial equity, while speaking in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning (June 2), after thousands of protestors again took to the streets to rally against the police killing of George Floyd. The speech marked Biden’s first major public appearance since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

“This President, even now in the midst of a public health crisis with massive unemployment wants to destroy [The Affordable Care Act]. He doesn’t care how many millions of Americans will be hurt because he’s consumed with his blinding ego when it comes to Barack Obama,” Biden said before repeating his call for the administration to withdraw from the lawsuit to overturn Obamacare.

Last month, President Donald Trump squashed any speculation that the Department of Justice might alter its position in the high-profile challenge to the ACA, affirming the administration wants the health law overturned. The Trump White House has repeatedly said it will produce an ACA replacement proposal but has yet to do so. (InsideHealthPolicy)