CARES Act aims at coronavirus recovery
As the country continues to grapple with rapidly changing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress has passed, and the president has signed, a third legislative relief package aimed at providing economic support and protection as well as funding to help front-line health care practitioners and government agencies address the ongoing crisis.
What’s in the CARES Act?
The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” is a $2.2 trillion package, primarily focused on giving direct payments to taxpayers, enhancing unemployment benefits and providing loans and grants to airlines and other affected businesses. The legislation also includes tax credits and loans for businesses to help cover payroll costs and insurance premiums, and, importantly, provides $172.1 billion in direct aid to hospitals and other health care practitioners.
How does it support health care?
The CARES Act sets aside a significant amount of funding for health care to bolster the U.S. response as this emergency continues. Key health care provisions include:
- Funding for Hospitals and Providers: $172.1 billion is allocated to ensure those on the front lines have resources to prepare, prevent and respond, including $100 billion specifically for hospitals. The legislation will also support new investments in health care, vaccine development, state and local government prevention and response efforts, as well as the purchase of critical medical supplies.
- Telehealth and Over-the-Counter Drugs: A provision for coverage of telehealth visits with no deductible for both COVID-19 related services and those not related to the virus is included. Additionally, consumers can now use health savings, medical savings and flexible savings accounts to purchase non-prescription, over-the-counter drugs.
- COVID-19 Testing and Preventive Services: Testing for COVID-19 is covered with no cost-sharing, likewise a requirement of coverage without cost-sharing for a vaccine is included.
- Funding for Expiring Health Programs: Funding for expiring health care programs such as community health centers is extended through November 30.
- Medical Response Efforts: $100 billion is allocated for a new program to provide grants to hospitals, public and not-for-profit entities, as well as Medicare and Medicaid-enrolled suppliers and institutional providers to cover unreimbursed health care related expenses or lost revenues attributable to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Which federal agencies get funds?
As the country navigates through the crisis certain federal agencies are critical to an effective response. The CARES Act outlines additional funding, including $4.3 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to support federal, state and local public health agencies as they prevent, prepare and respond to the coronavirus and $945 million to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support research.
Additionally, $200 million is earmarked for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to assist nursing homes with infection control and support state efforts to prevent the spread in these facilities. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will get $275 million, including $185 million directed to support critical access hospitals in rural communities, tribal health and rural telehealth programs and poison control centers.
And, combined, more than $1.7 billion is directed to aid in response efforts from the Administration for Community Living (ACL), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Is this enough?
Overall, BCBS companies strongly support this package as another important step in the U.S. response to the COVID-19 crisis. Given the unknowns about the scope, severity and duration of the outbreak, there will be additional legislation needed in the future. See our recommendations for additional action.
- Read the BCBSA/AHIP joint letter to Congress urging immediate bipartisan action for COVID-19 relief.
- See how BCBS companies are enhancing access to coronavirus care.
- Read the full press release on BCBSA’s commitment to protect the health and safety of members and communities.
- Read how the BCBS Federal Employee Program® is supporting federal workers and their families.