WHA is continuing to advocate for health care priorities to be included in the next COVID relief package as federal lawmakers have returned back to their home districts.
While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $3 trillion spending package known as the Heroes Act in May, the U.S. Senate waited until the end of July to introduce a much smaller $1 trillion package. Despite both houses mentioning a desire to reach an agreement that bridges the wide gap in these packages prior to the scheduled August recess, no agreement was reached and lawmakers were allowed to return to their home districts with the expectation that they could come back to Washington for votes at any time if an agreement is reached.
WHA has been advocating for Wisconsin health care priorities to be included in a compromise package, and activated its grassroots HEAT network shortly after the Senate package was released in late July. Since then, WHA has been hosting virtual roundtables with federal lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. These virtual roundtables have been a great avenue for WHA members to connect directly with their own federal lawmakers and provide insight into how hospitals are dealing with COVID on the ground. It has also allowed lawmakers to hear directly from their hospital leader constituents about challenges that continue to persist, such as testing supply shortages, revenue losses, and rising caseloads.
During an August 4 virtual roundtable with Congressman Tom Tiffany (WI-07), hospital leaders discussed their concerns with dwindling testing supplies that make it difficult to test all patients and health care workers in need of testing. Hospital participants stressed that adequate supplies are necessary to maintain a healthy and available workforce that can keep up with the demand for planned patient procedures.
During an August 5 virtual roundtable with Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-04), hospital leaders expressed support for an increase in the federal Medicaid matching rate (FMAP) to keep up with the influx of 97,000 new BadgerCare patients since the start of the pandemic, and an estimated 230,000 projected to join BadgerCare by next summer. Hospital members described the continued need for more financial relief for Wisconsin hospitals, noting that distributions from the federal Provider Relief Fund designed to go to safety-net hospitals missed most safety-net hospitals in Wisconsin.
WHA also hosted virtual roundtables with Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-02) and Congressman Glenn Grothman (WI-06) on August 11. While coming from separate sides of the political aisle, both lawmakers lamented the lack of progress on negotiations between party leaders in the House and Senate. Both lawmakers were also happy to voice their support when hospital leaders discussed the need to permanently extend the Medicare telehealth flexibilities granted under COVID.
With President Donald Trump issuing executive orders on August 7 that would allow the federal government to fund a boost in unemployment insurance benefits and defer student loan interest, along with discouraging evictions and deferring certain payroll taxes, it is expected this could relieve pressure for Congress to reach an agreement in the short term. However, a number of federal provisions expire on September 30, which could create pressure for Congress to agree on a COVID package as it looks to pass another continuing resolution to fund the federal government. WHA will continue advocating with federal lawmakers to include Wisconsin health care priorities as COVID relief discussions continue.