On March 6, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 1319, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The $1.9 trillion bill is the fifth COVID relief package since the start of the pandemic, but the first to pass under the Biden administration.
As reported in last week's The Valued Voice
, the package contains a number of important health care provisions, including $9 billion in additional relief for rural hospitals and health care providers, additional subsidies to improve coverage on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges and for COBRA plans, and other additional funding to mitigate impacts of the COVID pandemic.
In addition to these health care provisions, the legislation also provides direct payments to most Americans and boosts child tax credits. It also includes more than $350 billion in aid to state and local governments as well as $130 billion to schools to assist with safe reopening, and $50 billion in aid to small businesses. It is unclear if the additional state and local aid will translate into assistance to health care providers akin to the relief for state and local governments passed last year under the CARES Act.
Unfortunately, the final legislation kept intact an earmark to the states of New Jersey, Rhode Island and Delaware that will artificially inflate their Medicare wage index, thereby sending artificially higher Medicare payments to those three states only. WHA has been working to restore fairness to the wage index ever since the “Bay State Boondoggle
” passed in the Affordable Care Act and alerted Wisconsin's congressional delegation to this most recent attempt when the Senate legislation was unveiled last week. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson worked with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) to introduce an amendment to strip this provision, but it failed on a party line vote like most amendments offered.
The full bill passed under the Senate budget reconciliation process on a party-line vote as expected. The U.S. House quickly took up the bill and passed it on March 10 on a mostly party-line vote, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in objecting. President Biden has said he expects to sign the bill into law on Friday, March 12.
Contact WHA Vice President of Federal and State Relations Jon Hoelter