COVID-19 Federal Responses: Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 Federal Responses: Friday, March 20, 2020


The Senate is continuing to negotiate changes to its Phase III stimulus legislation. This draft version of the bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with the goal of negotiating with Democrats and the White House to produce a final version by as soon as this weekend. A Senate vote could come as early as Monday. A summary of the bill was included in Thursday’s daily update.

Most Congressional staff are working remotely, and they are being flooded with requests from stakeholder organizations to add or change provisions in the bill. It is not immediately clear if Congress can finish negotiations by Monday, but there is a strong possibility that the Senate will indeed vote on Monday.

There is already talk about a fourth major COVID-19 response bill that will follow the Phase III stimulus bill.

A group of Democratic Senators is asking large commercial health insurance companies to completely cover the costs of treating COVID-19. Most legislative efforts have focused on providing free coverage for testing, not treatment.

White House and Federal Agencies

During his daily press conference on the emergency, President Trump said that Americans should expect additional federal support if the $1,200 checks they would be issued in the Phase III bill are not enough. He said the White House is talking about “much more than a thousand-dollar check.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now the agency that is coordinating the overall federal response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will continue to lead the health and medical components of the response. 

Some drug manufacturers are increasing production of a malaria drug called Chloroquine which some, including President Trump, believe can be an effective treatment for COVID-19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci both warned that Chloroquine was not intended for treating COVID-19 and they do not know how effective it will be at treating the disease.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) granted a temporary Medicaid waiver request to Washington State. This is the second Medicaid waiver request CMS has granted. Florida was the first state to receive a waiver.

The Veterans Health System is preparing to support the civilian healthcare system if the public health emergency worsens. The VA is authorized to assist during major emergency situations and has procedures in place to do so.

CMS published two toolkits that consolidates CMS telehealth coverage policies into a centralized document. One toolkit is for General Practitioners and the other is for ESRD providers. 

CMS also issued an updated MLN Matters Article to explain its new Medicare and Medicaid telehealth coverage policies.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making it easier for rural healthcare providers to receive broadband internet from internet providers at reduced rates.

CMS could delay the effective date of its recently issued final rules on interoperability and data blocking. The rules were issued as the public health emergency began to increase in severity.