- The $7.8 billion package includes funding for hospital preparedness.
- $10 million was dedicated to prevent hospital employee exposure.
- CMS is focusing hospital inspections on infection control.
Congress is quickly advancing a bipartisan $7.8 billion coronavirus response package that includes funding for hospital preparedness and expanded telehealth.
The House easily passed the measure late on Wednesday, March 4, and the Senate was expected to clear it March 5 for the president’s signature.
Funding details in the package (some amounts are subsets of others) include:
- $3.1 billion for medical supplies for the Strategic National Stockpile, as well as to support the research and development of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests, and preparedness for hospitals and health systems
- $2.2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- $1 billion for state and local governments
- $300 million for the Infectious Diseases Rapid Response Reserve Fund, which helps the Department of Health and Human Services respond quickly to threats such as the novel coronavirus
- $300 million to continue CDC’s support for improving public health systems around the world
Within the overall funding levels are specific allocations for providers, including:
- $10 million for worker-based training to prevent and reduce exposure of hospital employees, emergency first responders and others at risk of exposure to the coronavirus through their work
- $100 million for community health centers
The strategic-stockpile funding also was directed to support the development of “medical surge capacity.”
“We have not seen the virus spread as quickly as other countries, but we do expect to see an increase in the number of cases,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, said in in a written statement.
Telehealth also got a boost through a provision that waives some Medicare requirements “during the coronavirus public health emergency” to allow beneficiaries to “receive the care they need at home to avoid placing themselves at greater risk of this virus,” according to a Senate summary of the bill.
Hospitals support the bill
Passage of the funding package followed a $1 billion request from hospital and nurse advocates, and provider advocates supported the legislation.
“The Federation deeply appreciates the Congress’s swift and timely action on funding the nation’s effort to combat coronavirus,” Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, said in a written statement. “This bill will provide essential assistance to caregivers and communities on the front lines of this battle.”
Soumi Saha, JD, PharmD, senior director of advocacy for Premier, a hospital alliance, said in a written statement that the group backed the funding package, especially the $61 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct pre- and post-market work on countermeasures, therapies, and vaccines; to monitor and mitigate any medical product shortage; and to strengthen the U.S. medical product manufacturing sector.
She urged that some of that funding be saved for implementation of pending legislation that would authorize the FDA to more closely monitor “the upstream sources of supplies and better understand our dependence on foreign nations for raw materials and active pharmaceutical ingredients — two areas where they have tremendous blind spots.”
CMS prioritizes infection control
Also on March 4, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) took several coronavirus-related steps, including:
- Issuing a “call to action” to healthcare providers to ensure they are implementing their infection control procedures
- Focusing all state survey agencies’ and accrediting organizations’ hospital and nursing home inspections exclusively on issues related to infection control and “other serious health and safety threats, like allegations of abuse”
- Issuing protocols for the inspection process in situations in which COVID-19, the name of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is identified or suspected
- Providing information for nursing homes and hospitals to address cases of COVID-19