CARES Act delivers on our health care needs in a big way

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As public health experts and leaders in the United States and across the globe grapple with the response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), we cannot let the fear of the unknown take hold. Even when the stakes are this high, and the challenge seems beyond our control, there is always one constant: how we respond to the challenge.

Americans always step up. Congress is doing its part too. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is just the latest effort.

Here’s what the CARES Act does on key health care priorities:

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and Vaccines: Medical professionals are running out of supplies. Congress is sending $27 billion to an emergency fund so the assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response can purchase and distribute PPE and other medical countermeasures through the Strategic National Stockpile, as well as develop and purchase vaccines through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Covering Tests and Future Treatments and Vaccines: We believe in free testing; Americans should not be paying for coronavirus tests. The CARES Act expands coverage of testing. We also cover any future vaccine under Medicare Part B—no deductibles. And, there is no cost for people on Medicaid—for the uninsured there is a state option to provide vaccine coverage (through Medicaid). We also stop bad actors, so no out-of-network doctors, hospitals, etc. can price gouge for diagnostic testing.

Relief for Health Care Providers: Those on the front lines need money. Congress boosted payments by 2 percent for the rest of the year for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and home health. Additionally, hospitals treating COVID-19 patients on Medicare will see a 20 percent payment increase for the length of this emergency.

Two more big ones: We provide $100 billion for hospitals and providers taking on coronavirus expenses and we invest $250 million in hospital preparedness grants.

Finally, of the $4.3 billion in additional funding appropriated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least $1.5 billion will be used to support federal, state, and local health agencies along with tribes for preparedness and response activities.

Liability Protections and Personnel Reinforcements: Hospitals need more respirators. In this deal, we provide permanent liability protections for the manufacturers who are making personal respiratory protective equipment during a public health crisis. This will help increase the supply of respirators now and in the future. It’s also clear we need reinforcements to maintain hospital staffing. Doctors who volunteer their skills during this crisis now have liability protections and can join the fight. Additionally, the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps has been granted surge capacity through the explicit authorization of the Ready Reserve Corps. The Ready Reserve Corps exists for moments like this, to put additional personnel on the ground—on short notice—for public health emergency response missions.

Expanding and Strengthening Telehealth: During this crisis, you no longer need a pre-existing relationship with a provider to utilize telehealth services; Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) are now sites of care for telehealth; more grant programs that promote telehealth tech for health care delivery, education, and information services; and, temporarily waves End-Stage Renal Disease face-to-face requirements.

We also made a life-saving update to an outdated substance use disorder law, which will save people from overdoses, reduce drug interactions, and ultimately improve the coordination of quality care. A patient’s treatment records will now be governed by HIPPA protections, so health care providers can effectively treat patients with substance use disorders.

Injecting certainty into our public health programs is so important, so we extended funding for a series of these programs through November—from special diabetes programs to Community Health Centers. Community Health Centers will also be receiving $1.32 billion in emergency funding with Hyde Amendment protections, which bars federal funds from being used on abortions. Medicaid programs were also extended—such as protections against spousal impoverishment.

There is also a look to the future. We make it easier for the government to partner with the private sector on research and development (removing the cap on other transaction agreement authority) and we take a series of smart steps to further protect our medical supply chain.

All told, the CARES Act is delivering on our health care needs in a big way. We know Americans always step up, and Congress is stepping up to meet this moment too.

Rep. Greg Walden represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is the top Republican of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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