Today, lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. with only 50 days remaining until election day on November 3. Aside from engaging in a heavy dose of election-year politics, members of Congress should be busy trying to pass two major pieces of legislation in the coming weeks.
First, Congress must pass a funding bill to avoid a lapse in government funding on October 1, the start of the 2021 federal fiscal year. Absent action by Congress, funding for federal agencies would expire at midnight on September 30 and the government would begin to shut down. Both political parties would like to avoid a shutdown weeks before the election and in the middle of a devastating pandemic.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that they had
reached an agreement to pass a short-term spending bill to avert a shutdown. Mnuchin said his expectation is that this “continuing resolution” would extend government funding at current levels past the election into December. Mnuchin and Pelosi both also said that the extension should be “clean,” meaning it would not include any extraneous policies besides the funding. Despite this verbal agreement, members of both political parties will likely try to attach policy amendments to the funding bill. Thus, the deal is far from done and it is unclear when and how an extension will pass into law in the next 16 days.
Meanwhile, efforts are still ongoing to pass a fifth major coronavirus aid bill. Throughout the summer, both political parties said that it would be necessary to pass another relief bill prior to several key CARES Act programs (expanded unemployment benefits, small business loans, etc.) expiring in late July or early August. However, despite the political will to “do something,” political differences have resulted in Congress doing nothing.
At the moment, the Democratic-led House and Republican-led Senate remain deadlocked trillions of dollars apart regarding a price tag for the bill. As the days march on and the economic and public health situation continues to evolve, it is possible that this political situation will evolve also. But currently, the odds of passing another COVID-19 relief bill seem low.
Looking beyond election day, the “lame-duck” Congress will face a November 30 deadline to extend funding for several key healthcare programs, including community health center federal grant funding. Extending funding for these programs is considered a “must pass” item, creating an avenue for other bipartisan healthcare policies- such as permanent reforms to Medicare’s telehealth services program- to potentially pass into law.
Regardless of the results, the election itself will eventually have an impact on healthcare providers. Healthcare reform and the government’s pandemic response are both leading political issues that will likely require a continued legislative and regulatory response in 2021. With several key policy proposals “on the ballot” this fall, the election results will help shape the direction of those efforts next year.
Impact on Physician Groups
For much of this year, our federal and state governments’ legislative and regulatory responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been the most important factor shaping our industry. In the coming weeks and months,
how Congress handles this next round of issues- government funding and more COVID-19 aid- will remain critically important for physicians and other healthcare providers to follow.
While it is unlikely to occur, a government shutdown would have a sharply negative effect on the entire economy, including the healthcare sector. Any COVID-19 relief bill is likely to include direct financial aid and additional or extended regulatory relief measures for healthcare providers. As for the election, regardless of the outcome, the political victories of this fall will likely turn into concrete policy changes next year, so stay tuned.
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