Prospects dim for COVID-19 relief as House passes partisan bill

Hopes fading for coronavirus deal as Congress returns

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that will likely go nowhere as negotiations between House Democrats and the White House have failed to produce a bipartisan deal.The bill included several priorities for healthcare stakeholders, and prospects for a deal before Election Day appear grim as House lawmakers are scheduled to return to their districts on Friday. The scaled-down version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act passed the House on a 214-207, largely party-line vote.”Negotiations are continuing, and I ardently hope that we can soon return to this floor with a bipartisan agreement,” House Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said.The legislation includes $50 billion in additional provider relief grants with new strings attached, increasing additional Medicaid matching funds to 14% from the current 6% level, increasing hospitals’ disproportionate-share hospital payments by 2.5%, and giving $238 billion to state governments squeezed by the economic downturn, $75 billion for testing and contact tracing, $7.6 billion for community health centers and $28 billion for COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution, including ensuring that Medicare would pay for a vaccine with no cost-sharing even if it were only given an emergency use authorization.The Medicaid matching and state government funds could help states minimize or avert provider payment cuts that are already squeezing some hospitals. Talks restarted between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin this week, though the two were unable to reach a deal even after Pelosi delayed a floor vote on the revised HEROES Act by a day to allow more time. Pelosi faced pressure from vulnerable members to at least try to reach a deal before the November election. “People say, ‘Isn’t something better than nothing?’ No, there can be an opportunity cost,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.The House passed the initial version of the HEROES Act in May, and relief packages offered by Senate Republicans have gained little traction.

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