Congress releases $8.3B coronavirus funding package. Here's what's in it

Congress is expected to pass a major $8.3 billion spending package to help providers and local governments handle the spread of the coronavirus and to boost the development of vaccines and tests of the virus.

Here are key parts of the spending package released Wednesday:

  • $500 million for an emergency telehealth waiver. The bill would waive certain Medicare restrictions for telehealth, including that a Medicare beneficiary can use telehealth services even if they aren’t in a rural community. “This provision would also allow beneficiaries to receive care from physicians and other practitioners in their homes,” a summary of the package said;
  • $2.2 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help state and local health agencies. The funding would include a provision to reimburse state or local costs for coronavirus response and preparedness activities from Jan. 20 to the end of this supplemental;
  • Nearly $1 billion to buy drugs and medical supplies. This procurement will include $500 million for drugs, masks and personal protective equipment that can be distributed to state and local health agencies in areas that are in shortage. It also includes funding for increasing the supply of biocontainment beds, which are secured areas used for patients with highly contagious diseases; and
  • More than $3 billion to support the research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and other treatments for the coronavirus. Any vaccine or diagnostic developed via taxpayer funds must also “be available for purchase by the federal government at a fair and reasonable price,” the summary said. The bill also enables the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure any vaccine or diagnostic can be affordable in the commercial market, but doesn’t elaborate on how.

The package sailed through the House on Wednesday and could be taken up quickly by the Senate.

Provider groups bracing for a coronavirus outbreak praised the spending package.

“This bill will provide essential assistance to caregivers and communities on the front lines of this battle,” said Chip Kahn, president and CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, in a statement.