In next phase of coronavirus relief legislation, ACP is lobbying for pay parity for audio-only calls, support for COVID-19 response workforce, infrastructure and health system funding, and federal funding for Medicaid
June 5, 2020 (ACP) – As the medical profession continues to reel from the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, the American College of Physicians is sending a powerful and urgent message to the nation's leaders: More needs to be done.
On May 15, the House of Representatives passed its version of the phase 4 coronavirus relief legislation, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.
“ACP is pleased that the HEROES Act does so much to help physicians in caring for patients during this crisis,” said Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, president of ACP, in a statement prior to the passage of the legislation. “While we have recommendations for what more can be done, the provisions in the bill will go a long way in helping to better equip our physicians and our health care system to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The HEROES Act would provide additional relief to physician practices and incorporate many of ACP's priorities. It would add $100 billion in emergency funding to physicians and their practices and hospitals for lost revenue and increased expenses, restore and make improvements to the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program including lowering the interest rate and providing more time for repayment, make it easier for IMGs to get visas to help in the efforts to fight COVID-19 and attend residency programs, and fund testing and contact tracing.
However, ACP has additional policies they would like to see enacted. This includes a call from ACP for targeted funding from the Provider Relief Fund – similar to that allocated for rural hospitals – to help primary care physicians. They requested this targeted funding to offset lost revenue and increased expenses; to be distributed immediately, effectively and in time to prevent practices from closing; and to be continued through the rest of the 2020 calendar year.
Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy, noted that practices are seeing fewer patients, often because people are afraid to visit the doctor's office due to COVID-19. “Even if they are able to resume seeing more patients, they won't be anywhere close to replacing revenue due to lost in-person visits,” he said. “Meanwhile, patient volumes will continue to be lower through the end of this year and probably longer than that. Financial support is urgently needed to prevent thousands of medical offices from shutting down within weeks.”
This targeted allocation for primary care is among the policies ACP is asking the Senate to include in its phase 4 version of coronavirus legislation. In a June 2 letter to Senate leaders, ACP called for the funding from the Provider Relief Fund among its priorities for inclusion in its legislation.
Other priorities are to include the provisions of the HEROES Act that ACP supported. ACP also outlined policies it would like to see that would support physicians and practices; support the physician workforce; provide patients coverage and protections from out-of-pocket costs; and make improvements to COVID-19 testing infrastructure and establish a national system for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, surveillance, and mitigation.
Republican leaders in the Senate are hesitant to move quickly on the next phase of coronavirus funding, Doherty said, but he added, “Physicians can't wait.”
ACP also supports the Student Loan Forgiveness for Frontline Health Workers Act (HR 6720), which would eliminate graduate school debt for physicians and medical students who are providing patient care related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a May 20 letter to U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, who introduced the bill, Fincher writes, “The College wishes to specifically underscore the importance of easing the financial strain of debt for medical students, residents, and physicians who are playing such a critical role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis and providing care to patients under circumstances that are extremely challenging.”