Last month, Congress returned to Washington, D.C. from its August recess with the hopes of quickly passing key government funding and coronavirus relief bills prior to any October electoral surprises. Our blog post from early September summarizes those efforts and highlights the key legislative and policy issues tied to the funding deadlines.
As expected, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the government funding extension needed to avert a shutdown. Following the U.S. Senate’s vote on September 30, early on October 1, President Trump signed a “continuing resolution” to avert a federal government shutdown just as the 2020 federal fiscal year ended at midnight. The law keeps government agencies operating through December 11 at current spending levels.
While this is good news for the entire economy, it is particularly good for the healthcare industry and healthcare providers. Any lapse in government funding could have had an impact on the operation of federally sponsored healthcare programs run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Regarding coronavirus relief measures, following weeks of unproductive yet ongoing negotiations, on Tuesday afternoon President Trump announced that he was halting negotiations with House Speaker Pelosi over a new aid bill until after the November 3 election. Trump blamed Speaker Pelosi and Congressional Democrats for the failure to reach an agreement. In response, Speaker Pelosi blamed President Trump and Senate Republicans for the same.
Speaker Pelosi and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (President Trump’s representative in the talks) had been negotiating since July. Over the past few days, those talks had led to some progress, but the two sides remained far apart on a number of key issues, including aid to state and local governments and legal liability protections for businesses and schools. The overall price tag was also a point of contention. Last week, the Democratic-led House passed a $2.2 trillion aid bill, which was down significantly from the $3.4 trillion bill it passed in May, but still far apart from the $1.6 trillion number floated recently by Secretary Mnuchin as the highest Senate Republicans would be willing to go.
While it is not impossible that we could see a political reversal which could result in Congress passing another bipartisan coronavirus relief bill prior to the election, with the election just 27 days away, it seems extremely unlikely that we will. For healthcare providers, this means they are unlikely to see additional financial support from the federal government across existing or new programs until after the election.
Looking beyond Election Day, the “lame-duck” Congress will be forced to confront several funding deadlines before the end of the year. On December 1, funding for several key healthcare programs, including community health center federal grant funding, is set to expire. Extending funding for these programs is considered a “must pass” item by both political parties. Then, as a consequence of the most recent continuing resolution, Congress must pass another government funding bill by December 11 to avoid a shutdown.
Both of these deadlines will create an opportunity for coronavirus aid and other bipartisan healthcare policies to potentially pass into law. Obviously, the results of the Congressional and Presidential elections will play a big role in shaping any legislation passed prior to the close of the 116th Congress and the swearing in of the new 117th Congress on January 3, 2021.
Regardless of the winner of the Presidential election, as a result of the pandemic it is extremely likely that there will be a big push to pass major health and economic legislation in early 2021. For healthcare providers, this could mean additional financial assistance programs, new or extended regulatory relief measures, and broader health reform changes extending beyond the pandemic. Thus, while the news of the week may be that additional COVID relief is likely dead until after the election, be prepared for things to pick up again quickly soon after.
For more information on financial resources, please visit the NextGen COVID-19 page.