Decisions on pandemic stimulus package, full passage of the budget and replacement of Justice Ginsburg could affect health care in the long term
Sept. 25, 2020 (ACP) – The veteran advocacy team at the American College of Physicians is monitoring a series of political disputes that could change the face of the nation's medical system for decades to come.
“Everything is coming together in a perfect storm as a series of crucial decisions confront our national leaders,” said Bob Doherty, ACP senior vice president for governmental affairs and public policy. “In the face of all the volatility, uncertainty and politicization, ACP is staying true to its principles and its policies, and we're continuing to advocate for patients and physicians.”
One of ACP's most urgent priorities is to support a major pandemic stimulus package. But the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate have been unable to reach a compromise. “Unfortunately, there's still no agreement on a path forward to provide more stimulus dollars to help the economy, which is still reeling from the continued impact of COVID-19,” Doherty said. “On the medical front, further stimulus funding is crucial to support public health strategies like contact tracing and to expand the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, which is helping to keep heath care professionals afloat.”
ACP supported key health-related provisions in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which the House passed. ACP applauded the legislation's moves to boost funding for the Provider Relief Fund and increase the federal government's contribution to Medicaid but the Senate refused to consider the HEROES bill. Meanwhile, Doherty said, “The White House has given mixed signals on whether they want another stimulus bill.”
There is some good news: On Sept. 22, the House passed legislation to avert a federal government shutdown days before the election and to keep the government funded through early December. There was bipartisan support for the House bill, and the Senate and president are expected to approve it. “Neither party wants a shutdown right before the election,” Doherty said.
But other news is grim. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has sparked a bitter battle over who will replace her on the Supreme Court. “Justice Ginsburg's passing has introduced a huge level of uncertainty concerning the congressional agenda and a higher level of distrust among the House, Senate and White House,” Doherty said. “It's hard to believe things could get even more polarized, but they probably will.”
It appears likely that the Senate will vote to replace Ginsburg with a more conservative justice. “This would have a lot of implications for health care, among many other issues,” Doherty said.
For example, the court on Nov. 10 – a few days after the election – is scheduled to hear arguments in a lawsuit that targets the Affordable Care Act (ACA). ACP is an enthusiastic supporter of the ACA and is deeply concerned about its fate.
“We filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this case, and we're on the record saying it would be disastrous if ACA is overturned,” Doherty said.
Moving forward, ACP will continue its advocacy for a robust COVID-19 stimulus bill, that includes Medicaid primary care pay parity, money for testing and tracing and programs to help struggling physician practices. ACP is also urging legislators to strongly support long overdue increases in Medicare payments for office visits, which are set to go into effect on Jan 1.
“We're being watchful and careful,” Doherty said. “As a respected and trusted voice in the halls of power, we're devoted to speaking up about the issues that matter to our members and the millions of patients they serve.”