American Rescue Plan Act Provides Funding to Combat COVID-19 and Improve US Health Care

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In addition to funding for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and contact tracing, the legislation builds on the ACA to extend coverage through federal and state marketplaces

March 19, 2021 (ACP) – The newly enacted $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act is an important advance for national health care and includes provisions that will help both patients and physicians through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

“This is a very big deal,” said Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “While some provisions aren't permanent, the Rescue Plan Act will transform American health care for the better. We are extremely pleased.”

President Biden signed the bill on March 12. In addition to stimulus payments, the American Rescue Plan increases funding for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and contact tracing. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to receive $7.5 billion to track, administer and distribute COVID-19 vaccines,” National Public Radio reported. “Another $46 billion will go toward diagnosing and tracing coronavirus infections, and $2 billion will go toward buying and distributing various testing supplies and personal protective equipment.”

According to Doherty, “these expenditures should provide a significant lift and help the states and providers of vaccines get as many shots into arms as possible. We must get back to normal, and this legislation will help get us there.”

The legislation also includes provisions that build on the Affordable Care Act and aim to improve health care in the United States overall. It extends subsidies to more people who buy coverage through the federal and state marketplaces; allocates funds to allow lower-income people to receive higher subsidies; and subsidizes 100 percent of COBRA premiums from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2021, according to Health Affairs.

The legislation will also improve health care coverage via Medicaid. Health Affairs provided this summary: “The new legislation will, among other changes, provide higher federal matching funds to states to promote home- and community-based services, allow a new state option for 12 months of post-partum coverage for new mothers, require the coverage of COVID-19 vaccines and treatment, and expand a prior Medicaid option for states to cover COVID-19 testing for the uninsured.”

Other provisions of the Rescue Plan Act will extend unemployment insurance payment supplements and add funds to the Paycheck Protection Program.

“ACP is pleased to see many provisions in the newly passed American Rescue Plan that will improve health care in the United States in the coming days, months, and years,” Dr. Jacqueline W. Fincher, ACP president, said in a statement. “The health of Americans and our health care system have been under incredible pressure over the past year as we have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. The health-related provisions in this new COVID-relief law will help relieve that pressure on both patients and physicians.”

There are still gaps, and ACP's goal of universal coverage has not yet been reached, Doherty said. Also, most coverage provisions will only be in effect for two years, meaning they will lapse if they are not extended. Still, Doherty said, “now is the time to celebrate what the legislation does and begin helping the public to understand what's in this legislation and how it will help them. Physicians have a key role in this: They know which patients have insurance and which ones don't, and they know which ones are struggling to afford coverage. There's a huge opportunity for physicians in the community to let their patients know that help is available, and they should consider signing up for marketplace plans.”

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Back to the March 19, 2021 issue of ACP Advocate