McConnell wants to help hospitals in lame-duck COVID-19 package

Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't want to forget hospitals in any COVID-19 relief package that Congress will debate during the lame-duck session starting next week. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)(Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed a desire to help hospitals in the next COVID-19 relief package he hopes to pass before the end of the year.

McConnell’s comments Wednesday come as lawmakers are expected to return to work Monday for a short lame-duck post-election session. So far, talks on a new round of COVID-19 relief have stalled.

But McConnell said Wednesday during a press conference that, “hopefully, the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election.”

Congress passed as part of the CARES Act a $175 billion relief fund for hospitals and other providers.

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The Department of Health and Human Services has distributed most of that funding, and $31 billion still needs to be released, but hospitals continue to face financial uncertainty with patient volumes still below pre-pandemic levels and COVID-19 cases surging again across the country. The U.S. reported more than 100,000 cases Wednesday, a new record.

“The relief for hospitals needs to be expanded,” said Dan Mendelson, founder of consulting firm Avalere Health, during a webinar hosted by the firm Thursday. “You have a lot of hospitals in a situation financially and that gets exacerbated as the caseload goes up.”

Mendelson said hospitals also aren’t earning much from COVID-19 care as opposed to other types of surgical procedures.

“It is difficult and disrupts your operations and is not compensated as well as a lot of other types of care,” he said. “It is typically much more lucrative for a hospital to do a cardiovascular procedure than care for infectious disease. We all know that and have known that for a very long time.”

Several hospital groups have pressed for additional relief, noting that the $175 billion fund isn’t going to be enough to keep hospitals afloat financially. The American Hospital Association estimates hospitals in total could lose $20 billion a month for the rest of the year.

McConnell hinted at the need for more help for hospitals during the press conference.

“We need another round for hospitals because clearly, clearly the coronavirus has not gone,” he said.

But it remains unclear how much money McConnell would be in favor of adding in a new package.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pushed for a $2.5 trillion package, but McConnell has rebuffed that as including “all kinds of things that I felt were simply unrelated to the subject.”

Pelosi said during a press conference on Oct. 28 that she wants to pursue a bill in the lame-duck session but shied away from doing a smaller package that has a higher chance of getting approval in the Senate.

“Why would we be talking to them if we didn’t want a bill?” she said.

A new package will likely include more money for enhanced unemployment benefits and another boost to the Payroll Protection Program that gives loans to small businesses.

A potential vehicle for a relief package could be the end of the year spending bill. Congress and the White House must reach an agreement on a new spending deal to avoid a government shutdown by Dec. 11.

It remains unclear, though, whether President Donald Trump would be in favor of a new package. At the time of publication, the presidential race remains undecided, but former Vice President Joe Biden is leading in several battleground states that continue to count votes.