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Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Update

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03/28/2020

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Congress

  • The House of Representatives passed the “Phase III” CARES Act yesterday afternoon by a voice vote. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) tried to force a roll call vote on the bill but his effort failed. 
  • President Trump signed the bill into law after he received it.
  • The bill provides over $2 trillion in assistance that will be used to help small businesses and specific industries, provides extra funding for the healthcare system and increases the federal government’s response.
  • Various federal agencies are responsible for implementing the law. For example, the Treasury Department will determine how to provide the “Recovery Dividend” payments. Those payments are available to individual and joint-filing taxpayers based on their 2018 adjusted gross income.
  • Now that the bill has passed, Congress left Washington and is not expected to return until April 20th unless any pressing business arises.
  • Behind the scenes, Congressional staff will begin working on an expected “Phase IV” bill. This update will continue to share information about the Phase IV efforts. However, those details might be scarce at times.
  • Going forward, the Congressional portion of this update will provide deeper dives into important sections of the Phase III bill.

White House and Federal Agencies

  • National Institutes of Allergy and Infections Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that a potential COVID-19 vaccine will go into production while safety and efficacy testing is still occurring. It is rare for a vaccine product to go into production before it has passed those important tests.
  • CMS published a new online telehealth toolkit for long-term care nursing homes. Most of the information is directed towards providers who may want to establish a permanent telemedicine program, but there is information here that will help in the temporary deployment of a telemedicine program as well. There are specific documents identified that will be useful in choosing telemedicine vendors, equipment, and software, initiating a telemedicine program, monitoring patients remotely, and developing documentation tools. There is also information that will be useful for providers who intend to care for patients through electronic virtual services that may be temporarily used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • CMS approved an additional six state Medicaid Section 1135 waiver requests. This brings the total number of approved Medicaid Section 1135 waivers to 29.
  • CMS also issued Guidance to labs about flexibilities CMS will take under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) statute on an emergency basis. This includes flexibilities regarding temporary and remote testing sites, use of alternate specimen collection devices, and implementation of laboratory developed tests. 
  • The Health IT Advisory Committee (HITAC) created a coronavirus task force to help advise HHS on privacy and interoperability issues.
  • Several federal agencies, including the FDA, NIH, VA and DOD are collaborating to 3D print parts for manufacturing ventilators.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is extending a deadline for rural health care providers to apply for assistance in paying for broadband internet and other telecommunications services. The new deadline is June 30th. One of the purposes of the main program is to increase broadband capabilities for the delivery of telehealth services.
  • Friday President Trump ordered General Motors to make ventilators under Defense Production Act