COVID-19 Relief Package Still in Flux

Original story posted on: October 21, 2020

There is hope for a resolution before the Nov. 3 election.

Watching negotiations for the next federal COVID-19 relief package for the past two weeks has been a bit like watching a tennis match from front-row seats.

President Trump tweeted a week and a half ago that negotiations were over, then, a day or so later, he restarted those negotiations with more tweets. Last Tuesday, the president seemed fully behind coming to an agreement with a tweet that said, quote, “STIMULUS! Go big or go home!”

Discussions between the administration’s representative, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued over this past weekend. The price tag no longer appears to be the issue; instead, they are arguing about the details of what the money should cover.

Regardless of what happens between Pelosi and Mnuchin, it appears that a bigger obstacle lies with convincing the Republican Senate to play along, as it reportedly does not like the range of costs now being discussed. Last week, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell scoffed at the White House’s current position of a $1.8 trillion package.

And although we’ve been saying this for weeks, we are getting down to the wire. Speaker Pelosi’s office announced this past weekend that the administration has until Tuesday of this week to agree to terms. Otherwise, she says, there is no chance that a relief package will be passed before the election.

In the meantime, the Senate continued its hearings on Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the U.S. Supreme Court. Republicans hope to advance her nomination out of the Judicial Committee this Thursday and have a full vote on the Senate floor soon after. As we’ve written, if Judge Barrett is confirmed before the election, she will likely take part in the Texas v. Azar case, in which a group of states seeks to overturn the entire Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). While Judge Barrett has written against the law in the past, at the hearings last week she rejected suggestions that she has pre-set views on this particular case.

In related news, last week, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a report on the health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act for the individual market. The report analyzed unsubsidized enrollment in the PPACA Marketplace plans – that is, individuals or families that do not get any help from the government to pay premiums. The report found that unsubsidized enrollment plans experienced a nearly 50-percent drop in the past four years. In the meantime, the subsidized portion of the market grew substantially.

Related to this, presidential nominee Joe Biden has proposed increasing the number of individuals that could receive subsidies in the PPACA exchanges by broadening eligibility for those subsidies to over 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

And while the Trump administration continues to support repealing the PPACA through the court case now before the Supreme Court, the president seems to have backed off that position more generally. In his recent executive order at the end of September, Trump said, quote, “Obamacare is no longer Obamacare, as we worked on it and managed it well. What we have now is a much better plan.”

Programming Note: Matthew Albright is a permanent panelist on Monitor Mondays. Listen to his legislative update sponsored by Zelis, Mondays at 10 a.m. EST.

Matthew Albright

Matthew Albright is the chief legislative affairs officer at Zelis Healthcare. Previously, Albright was senior manager at CAQH CORE, and earlier, he was the acting deputy director of the Office of E-Health and Services for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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