James M. Berklan

There are few certainties in the rough and tumble world of Washington politics. What seems like a sure thing today can be gone a few hours later. An absurdity right now? It may be reality tomorrow.

That’s why it’s going to be so very interesting to see how this fourth — and probably final — COVID-19 relief package comes to be. The ball is in the Senate’s court this time, so Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and cronies get to make the big first splash, which is sure to be declared dead on arrival by Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow Democrats in the House.

That’s when the sausage-making begins in earnest.

Despite the many uncertainties, however, there is one thing providers can take comfort in: They have some 800-pound gorillas on their side when it comes to their top priority in this battle. 

The menace is a typical one for nursing homes: Liability concerns. The enormity of a pandemic magnifies them to a ridiculous level. That’s where the surreality of it all could actually become a benefit.

Because so many types of healthcare providers — and businesses of many types, for that matter — could get blotted out by eager-beaver plaintiff lawyers if they were to be allowed free run, the odds are lower that the ambulance chasers will be given that latitude. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and countless other industry titans will be fighting shoulder to shoulder with providers on this one. And they should win.

“This is not just for businesses,” observed McConnell earlier this week. “This is for hospitals, doctors, nurses, nonprofits, universities, colleges, K-12, so that people who acted in good faith during this crisis are not confronted with a second epidemic of lawsuits in the wake of a pandemic that we’re already struggling with.”

What will Democrats get in return? Probably something that won’t thrill providers. But in this game, everyone knows that you don’t get the first and second draft choices.

The key is that unfettered ability to sue would be ruinous for the long-term care industry. That should be averted, though, in this next package.

Relatively minor chits such as delaying loan repayments also should come easily enough to providers’ side of the table. Then, haggling over any additional funding will come next. And goodness knows what other bon mots one party or the other will try to grab.

We’ll find out soon enough how this unfolds. Even if new television shows won’t be created before Labor Day, there should be some entertaining episodes airing nonetheless thanks to the political intrigue.

Observers think the opening salvo will be fired as soon as 10 days from now, and that the battle lines will be fully formed by the end of July. Then, it’s a sprint to get something finalized before chafing lawmakers get their August recess and the ability to scamper off into the ensuing election season.

With that, also, it will pay to have big friends on one’s side. But one battle at a time, friends. One battle at a time.

Follow Executive Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.