A COVID-19 relief framework created by a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers includes $35 billion in relief grants for healthcare providers.
The legislative summary, dated Wednesday, still leaves the thorny issues of liability protections and state and local aid unresolved. Prior slimmed-down COVID-19 relief bills advanced by Senate Republicans had cut out more money for the Provider Relief Fund.
HHS has distributed roughly $109 billion of the $175 billion Congress has allocated to the Provider Relief Fund as of mid-November, according to data released by the department. Some prominent health systems, including HCA Healthcare, have returned grant money.
The framework details that $7 billion of the $35 billion would be set aside for rural provider and $1 billion for tribes and Indian health organizations. The document also references changes to clarify reporting requirements for healthcare providers to keep grant money, including allowing grant money to be used for staffing and child care. Changes to the requirements in recent months have prompted outcry by healthcare providers and concessions by HHS.
The framework proposes allowing health systems to move grant funds received in targeted distributions throughout their systems, which would provide more flexibility and potential utility of the funds.
Though Congress didn’t give HHS much guidance on how to distribute or prioritize funds, the framework would direct HHS to consider healthcare providers who have been underrepresented so far or are at “imminent risk of closure.”
Other issues of importance to the healthcare industry are that vaccine development and distribution efforts would be given $6 billion, testing and tracing efforts would get $10 billion, and telehealth flexibilities would be extended through the end of 2021.
It remains unclear whether congressional leaders will endorse the results of the bipartisan negotiations, which are coalescing just days before a government funding deadline.
The deadline is currently Dec. 11, but the House is expected to vote Wednesday to extend funding for the government, including several Medicare and Medicaid programs, until Dec. 18 to give lawmakers more time to reach an agreement on appropriations and COVID-19 relief.