Shaheen Lays Out Critical Health Care & Essential Worker Priorities to Senate Leadership for Future COVID-19 Response Legislation
**During negotiations of the CARES Act, Shaheen previously called on Senate leadership to prioritize a number of health care-related issues in response to conversations she had with New Hampshire health care providers on the frontlines.**
(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer highlighting critical health care-related priorities that need to be included in future coronavirus response legislation. The priorities are the result of Senator Shaheen’s extensive conversations with New Hampshire community leaders, health care providers, first responders and small businesses. During negotiations of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – which has since been passed by Congress and signed into law – Shaheen called on Senate Leadership to similarly prioritize a number of health care issues in response to her ongoing work with providers on the frontlines in New Hampshire.
In her letter today, Shaheen wrote, “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided important resources to help hospitals, health care providers, small businesses and nonprofit organizations deal with the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 in the near term. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Health Care Enhancement Act provided more resources to help bridge the small business and health care provider support programs through additional weeks of need, while also bolstering federal support to ramp up COVID-19 testing in our communities. However, in the countless conversations that I have had in recent weeks with Granite Staters, it has become increasingly clear that additional support from Congress will be necessary as New Hampshire and our nation navigate this unprecedented crisis.”
Shaheen went on to explain that the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that recently passed the House included policies designed to address many of the issues discussed in her letter, and that as the Senate works with the House on legislation aimed at coronavirus response and economic relief, to consider the following priorities:
- Relief in the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments Program: This program was expanded under the CARES Act to allow for hospitals, physicians and other Medicare-participating providers to apply for upfront payments from Medicare to help cover revenue shortfalls as a result of COVID-19. Earlier this month, Shaheen and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced legislation to reduce interest rates and modify repayment obligations for health care providers who’ve sought financial assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic through Medicare’s Accelerated and Advance Payments Program.
- Health Care Provider Grants: With New Hampshire hospitals reporting revenue losses in excess of $200 million per month statewide, and additional losses from other non-hospital providers, Shaheen highlights that more grant funding will be needed. Yesterday, Shaheen led a letter on behalf of the New Hampshire congressional delegation to the Trump administration, calling for it to expeditiously award more grant dollars from the Provider Relief Fund established under the CARES Act to help hospitals confront increased expenses and reduced revenues associated with their response to the virus.
- Resources and Support for Long-Term Care Facilities: Senator Shaheen urged Senate leadership to prioritize additional dedicated funding to help nursing homes and long-term facilities to acquire more testing supplies and personal protective equipment, while maintaining sufficient staffing levels. She also called on leadership to include key reforms from her bill with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), the Nursing Home COVID19 Protection and Prevention Act, that would help states implement strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings. On Friday, Shaheen and the New Hampshire congressional delegation announced $19.78 million in federal assistance for Granite State nursing facilities through the CARES Act.
- Community Health Center Funding: Senator Shaheen called on leadership to include $7.6 billion in additional emergency health center funding in the next legislative package. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), this level of support is projected to help health centers survive revenue shortfalls from the pandemic for the remainder of 2020.
- Medicare Telehealth Reimbursement Rates: Senator Shaheen is urging Senate leadership to include provisions in the next COVID-19 response package that bring Medicare reimbursement for telehealth services from physicians and Federally-Qualified Health Centers in line with what Medicare pays for services performed in-person.
- Health Care Coverage and Affordability: To help ensure that more Americans can afford health insurance coverage, Shaheen called for Congress to provide financial support for the cost of premiums for workers who lose their jobs and purchase coverage under a Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plan. She also urged leadership to lift the current income cap on the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) premium tax credits, so that families with income above 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) can receive financial assistance with the cost of monthly premiums. She also called for additional adjustments to ACA premium tax credits, to provide a special enrollment period under the ACA and to establish an option for states to provide Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 treatment and testing costs for the uninsured—with a 100 percent federal matching payment. Many of these policies were also included in the health care coverage and affordability proposal that Shaheen announced on Friday.
- Testing, Contact Tracing and Public Health Infrastructure: Senator Shaheen urged Senate leadership to provide substantial additional dedicated funds for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing to supplement the $25 billion in initial funding that Congress provided in the PPP and Health Care Enhancement Act.
- Premium Pay for Essential Workers: Shaheen is calling for frontline workers, including health care professionals, first responders, grocery store workers, delivery workers, to be provided additional pay for their vital contributions during this crisis.
- Support for Essential Workers to Afford Elder Care Costs: With senior centers closed and facilities that provide attendant and personal care services limited, essential workers who live with frail senior citizens or individuals with physical and mental impairments are confronted with additional costs of securing care for these loved ones during the essential workers’ shifts on the frontlines. At Shaheen’s insistence, the CARES Act provided important increases in child care grant funding and flexibility for grant dollars to be used to provide financial assistance to essential workers for the cost of child care, but more support is urgently needed. These funds and flexibilities have supported New Hampshire’s efforts to standup an emergency child care system for essential workers. Senator Shaheen urged Senate leadership to provide similar financial support for essential workers who need assistance in caring for a senior citizen or other impaired individual who lives with them.
The letter can be read in full here.