Congress and the new administration are looking at a significant number of proposals designed to provide critical pandemic healthcare in the months ahead. Which of the proposals make it from the discussion stage to viable legislation remains to be seen. Combined they are part of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package now before Congress.
According to Senate and House sponsors, millions of Americans continue to be affected by the pandemic. For example, unemployed workers have been left without access to their employer-sponsored health insurance benefits. One of the primary goals of the current relief package is to change that.
Here is a brief look at some of the proposals Congress is considering:
Subsidized COBRA Benefits
Under normal conditions, unemployed workers still have access to their health insurance benefits for a limited time via the COBRA program. Some members of Congress want to get workers now unemployed due to the coronavirus crisis back on the healthcare roles by spending millions to provide continued COBRA coverage through the end of the fiscal year, at no additional cost to employees.
In addition, Congress is hoping to create subsidized health insurance benefits for unemployed workers who do not have access to COBRA benefits. These would be employees whose limited COBRA period has already expired.
Tax Credits for ACA Insurance
Workers paying for low-cost health insurance made available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) might still be struggling financially. Congress is looking at a proposal to lower their monthly premiums through premium tax credits for this year and next. A tax credit is not an adjustment of taxable income, it is a direct credit that reduces a person's tax bill by an equal amount.
Funding for the States
Understanding that the best way to fight coronavirus is to do it at the state level, Congress is looking at providing funding that will enable the states to deploy emergency response teams to help contain outbreaks at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities.
These 'strike forces', as it were, would be deployed to help manage coronavirus outbreaks among seniors as they happen. As to how states would create and implement the task forces, Congress is likely to leave that up to them. The most important aspect of this is not the task forces themselves, but the funding. States continue operating under a state of emergency so as to guarantee they have access to federal funding should it become available.
Funding for Nursing Homes
In addition to providing financial support to the states, Congress wants to offer direct benefits to nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. They are looking at the possibility of providing tools and real-time support to contain outbreaks as they occur. Exactly what that support would look like is anyone's guess.
Funding for Retirement Programs
Though not healthcare related, America’s retirement programs are also on the table. Unfortunately, many multi-employer retirement plans are approaching insolvency due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. Congress hopes to shore them up with federal funding. According to the House Ways & Means Committee, federal action could preserve retirement benefits for as many as one million Americans.
Direct Support to Families
Finally, there is a proposal to provide direct support to America's families, especially those most vulnerable. In addition to a new round of stimulus checks, Congress is looking at housing assistance, subsidized internet service, and using existing means to further help mothers with young children and pregnant women, including emergency food, diapers, etc.
Congress has an ambitious plan before it. Time will tell exactly which proposals make it through Congress and to the president's desk.