CONGRESS’ RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS IN THREE ACTS

by Matthew Albright, Chief Legislative Affairs Officer, Zelis

Since the beginning of March, Congress has gone against type and worked decisively, quickly and, most impressively, across the aisle – with just a few minor rough patches along the way – to fight the Coronavirus threat and its potential consequences.

Act One: Funding for a Vaccine

As you may remember, although it feels like a lifetime ago, in the first week of March, Congress and the administration broke speed records by introducing, passing and signing a Coronavirus funding package into law in less than three days. Congress’ first coronavirus act, H.R. 6074, Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act 2020, funded $8.3 billion aimed mostly at pursuing a vaccine for the virus.

The funding package also sought to provide additional supplies and fund state, local and even international activities aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

Act Two: Removing Economic Obstacles to Testing and Quarantines

In the second and third weeks of March, the goal of Congress was to remove economic obstacles for people to get tested for covid-19 and cushion other possible financial consequences that might affect workers impacted by the virus. With H.R. 6201, Families First Coronavirus Response Act, lawmakers want to make sure that people don’t hesitate to get tested – and quarantined if they have to – because of the possible costs.

The Families First Act guarantees that testing for the virus will not require any payment or cost-sharing by any individual, whether that person is insured or not. The Act also prohibits any payer from requiring prior authorization before a person is tested. The Families First Act does not extend the same requirements for any treatment of the disease.

The Families First Act requires businesses to offer paid sick leave and family leave for people impacted by the Coronavirus. These requirements, however, only apply to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, leaving out many large companies and the employees. The Act provides tax credits to the businesses to pay for the leave.

The bill also provides funds for the administration of state unemployment offices and bolsters food assistant programs. You may have heard that the administration was going ahead with applying work requirements to the food stamp program. The Families First Act would halt that plan.

The bill was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and is now effective.

Act Three: Economic Stimulus

Congress’ third Coronavirus act, the CARES Act – a.k.a, the Coronavirus stimulus bill – is expected to be the most expensive act ever passed by Congress. During the third week of March, Congress started to think about a trillion-dollar plus stimulus package for individuals and businesses negatively impacted by the broader economic consequences of the virus. At the time of this writing, Congress and the president appear to be leaning toward direct payments as part of the package; i.e., checks written out to taxpayers. The CARES Act will also provide money for industry sectors that are or will be negatively impacted by the Coronavirus and its effects.