Senate GOP aren't in a hurry to pass a new round of COVID-19 stimulus funding after House passes $3T bill

Senate Republicans are not likely to take up another round of funding for providers any time soon even as a $3 trillion bill was passed by the House of Representatives last week.

Several Republican senators have said they want to wait to see the impact of prior stimulus bills and have bashed the House bill that was passed by a largely party line vote. However, Republicans are open to giving liability protections for providers, a major demand from hospital groups.

“We ought to send the money that we’ve already appropriated—that’s $3 trillion—and see how it works,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, during a recent interview on PBS. “Much of it has not yet gone out. For example, all the money for hospitals hasn’t gone out.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said on the Senate floor that moving forward means looking at what Congress has already done.

“Let’s not start to legislate again and spend more money until we know how what we have already sent works,” he said. “The money is just being distributed now. In fact, most of our money in Ohio that goes to the state and local governments has not been distributed yet.”

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The CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, included $100 billion to help prop up providers that have seen their finances devastated due to COVID-19.

Congress passed another $75 billion for providers in a supplemental bill last month.

The Department of Health and Human Services has given details on how it is distributing the money, including a $50 billion general fund for all providers and allocations specifically for COVID-19 hot spots and rural facilities.

But hospital groups have said they need much more money as finances have ground to a halt due to a combination of low patient volume and the cancellation of elective procedures.

The Association of American Medical Colleges praised the HEROES Act and was “encouraged by the timeliness of this legislation, recognizing the critical importance of delivering additional support and initiatives to help contain this pandemic,” according to a statement on May 14.  

But Republicans have pilloried the legislation as a partisan, Democratic wish list of priorities.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it an “enormous, enormous political messaging bill” on the Senate floor Monday.

However, Senate Republicans do appear to be receptive to a major issue for hospitals: liability protection.

A collection of hospital groups including the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), America’s Essential Hospitals and the Association of American Medical Colleges sent a letter to congressional leaders on May 7 on the issue.

The letter notes that some states have taken action to shield providers from legal exposure due to actions taken in response to the pandemic.

“But there is an inconsistent level of action across the country and federal legislation would ensure all frontline workers are protected,” according to a statement from the FAH.

The idea has the support of Senate Republicans, but it remains unclear if or when such protections will pass Congress.

“We need strong legal protection to ensure that our historic recovery efforts are not drained away from healthcare workers, schools and university or small businesses in order to line the pockets of trial lawyers,” McConnell said.