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On the Hill: COVID-19 Negotiations Remain in Limbo

Congress is no closer to securing a new COVID-19 stimulus package after a tumultuous week of on-again, off-again negotiations between Republicans and Democrats.

President Trump last week abruptly tweeted that all negotiations should cease, but subsequently endorsed offering piecemeal relief for several targeted sectors — an approach Democrats previously rejected. Later, President Trump encouraged negotiators to “go big” and provide a more robust relief package.

On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly offered a $1.8 trillion COVID-19 proposal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). This package is smaller than the pared-down version of the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act most recently passed by the House, which would cost about $2.2 trillion. Even if Pelosi and Mnuchin reach a deal, it remains unlikely Senate Republicans could pass it, given several members continue to express concerns about adding to the federal debt.

The House is in recess until after the Nov. 3 elections, but members are on standby to return to Washington for a vote on COVID-19 legislation if negotiators reach an agreement.

Senators Ask HHS to Reverse Provider Relief Fund Reporting Changes

In a pair of letters sent Friday, Senate Democrats and Republicans urged Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to reconsider recent guidance on how hospitals should use and report payments received through the Provider Relief Fund (PRF).

America’s Essential Hospitals raised concerns about the new reporting guidance, issued Sept. 19, which would change the definition of “lost revenue” after hospitals made decisions based on previous definitions and requirements. This change is particularly troubling for essential hospitals, which already operate on thin margins and remain on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Democratic letter was led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) and signed by 20 additional senators. A similar predominantly Republican letter was led by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and signed by 30 other senators.

Senate Judiciary Committee Begins SCOTUS Confirmation

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin formal confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Democrats are expected to focus on the Supreme Court’s role in shaping health care policy. A confirmation vote by the full Senate is expected just days before the Nov. 3 elections.

Association Releases 2020 Election Toolkit

America’s Essential Hospitals offers its members an election advocacy toolkit to support engagement in the 2020 presidential elections. The toolkit covers a wide array of topics, from strategies to educate congressional candidates to organizing a voter registration drive. It includes helpful tips, sample materials, and legal guidelines that answer key questions about essential hospital participation in the electoral process.

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About the Author

Nikki Hurt is a manager of legislative affairs at America's Essential Hospitals.

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