AHA Statement on COVID Relief Package and Government Funding Bill

Rick Pollack
President and CEO
American Hospital Association

December 21, 2020

America’s hospitals and health systems, and our heroic front-line caregivers, appreciate the continued support from Congress as our ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year. While this legislation is welcome news for patients and their families, and the hospitals that provide them and their communities with essential services, there is no question that additional relief will be necessary as we continue to battle the pandemic.

This COVID-19 legislation makes important changes to the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) reporting guidelines by providing greater flexibility to hospitals, including allowing hospital systems to move targeted PRF distributions within their system and allowing providers to use any reasonable method to calculate lost revenue. The bill also includes modest additional funding for the PRF, which has helped hospitals and health systems across the country keep their doors open during the pandemic in order to continue providing needed care to their patients and communities. While we appreciate this funding, hospitals and health systems continue to need additional resources as they deal with a surge in cases and hospitalizations. As Leader McConnell said about this package, “more help is on the way,” and as Leader Schumer also said, this package is a “down payment” and “cannot be the final word” on COVD-19 relief. The AHA strongly agrees with both leaders.

The AHA is pleased that Congress eliminated cuts to the Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) program for the next three years. Eliminating these cuts will provide more support to hospitals that care for our nation’s most vulnerable populations – children, the poor, the disabled and the elderly. We are also glad that this bill suspends Medicare sequester cuts for an additional three months and authorizes a new round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that have offered additional support to many hospitals.

The hospital and health system field strongly supports protecting patients from surprise medical bills. We are pleased that Congress rejected approaches that would impose arbitrary rates on providers, which could have significant consequences far beyond the scope of surprise medical bills and impact access to hospital care. We also applaud Congress for rejecting attempts to base rates on public payers, including Medicare and Medicaid, which historically pay far less than the cost of delivering care. We believe this bill is an important step forward in protecting patients. In particular, the AHA thanks House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neal and Ranking Member Brady for leading these efforts to protect patients and curb surprise billing.

This package also makes important investments in rural health care. This includes Senator Grassley’s Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) legislation, which the AHA has advocated for and would allow rural hospitals to continue to serve the health care needs of their communities by providing emergency and observation services without the provision of inpatient services. The package also lifts the cap on the number of Medicare-funded residency slots, which will expand training opportunities and help address health professional shortages, including in rural communities.

Finally, this package includes important additional funding related to COVID-19 vaccines and testing. In addition to playing an important role in vaccination administration across the country, hospitals and health systems, along with our physician and nursing partners, have an important role to play in providing the public with clear and concise information that informs them about the benefits of being vaccinated. We will continue to be guided by science and follow the evidence that the FDA lays out on the safety and efficacy of the various vaccines in development.

While we thank Congress for the additional support and relief this bill provides to hospitals and health systems, we continue to believe that more must be done to aid our response to the pandemic. The AHA continues to advocate for additional support for front-line health care workers, coverage for the uninsured, accelerated payment forgiveness, federal liability protections, and resetting the IMPACT Act, among other measures. We look forward to working with the incoming Administration and the new Congress on these issues in 2021.

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Contact:        Colin Milligan, (202) 638-5491, cmilligan@aha.org
                      Marie Johnson, (202) 626-2351, mjohnson@aha.org

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