Lawmakers are on the verge of passing a bill that would provide $8.3 billion in emergency funding to help federal agencies respond to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 6047) late Wednesday afternoon. As of Thursday afternoon, the legislation was in the Senate awaiting action.
The bill also temporarily waives certain Medicare restrictions on telehealth services during the coronavirus response — allowing providers to use the tool to respond to Medicare patients.
Meanwhile, the government programs of Medicare and Medicaid will pay for testing performed on residents who are suspected of having coronavirus, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed earlier this week.
Pence’s announcement comes days after Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma hinted that the agency is considering a change to allow the programs to pay for services to prevent and treat COVID-19. Officials also discussed expanding test access for providers during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
“[The Department of Health and Human Services] has already denominated a test for the coronavirus to be an essential health benefit, which ensures that it will be covered by people’s private health insurance. It will be covered by Medicare and Medicaid,” Pence said Wednesday.
A Washington state skilled nursing facility was identified as the first U.S. site of a coronavirus outbreak, officials announced last week. As of late Thursday, 11 people have died of the disease in the U.S. — with most being from the nursing home.
The National Council on Aging called for additional funding for Medicare earlier this week, saying it could be used to over potential vaccines and telehealth services in the fight against the respiratory disease.
“Resources are needed to support state and local health departments as they mount strategies to address local need, including partnering with their aging services providers and health care entities to meet the unique needs of the older adult population,” the group said.