Trump Says Hospitals Will Be Paid for Treating Uninsured Coronavirus Patients
The Trump administration will use a federal stimulus package to pay hospitals that treat uninsured people with COVID-19 as long as they agree not to bill the patients or issue unexpected charges.
The money would be drawn from a $100 billion fund to help hospitals respond to the crisis that hospital groups expected would be spent on their more immediate financial needs.
This money comes from the wider $2 trillion stimulus bill intended to rescue the coronavirus-battered economy. – but it will not be used to re-open Obamacare exchanges.
President Trump announced the policy on Friday at his daily briefing. “That should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment,” he said.
‘I can so proudly announce that hospitals and health care providers treating uninsured coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government using funds from the economic relief package,’ the president said at his daily press briefing.
‘That should alleviate any concern on uninsured Americans have about seeking the coronavirus treatment. That answers the question pretty well. And pretty much in the favor of our great people,’ he added.
Using the hospital funds to pay for uninsured coronavirus patients could be a targeted way to pay for coronavirus care for the growing number of Americans who lack health insurance. But critics say it may not go to hospitals in the states hit the hardest so far and does little to address concerns over the millions of people now without coverage for medical care unrelated to the virus.
The administration recently decided against reopening Obamacare insurance marketplaces in 38 states, another move that could have helped uninsured Americans obtain coverage for coronavirus care as well as treatment for unrelated conditions.
His announcement comes on the same day a federal report showed more than 700,000 jobs were lost in March after many businesses closed due to the coronavirus. Nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits in the final two weeks of March.
While people who recently lost job-based coverage because of a layoff are eligible to sign up under current law, a broader special enrolment period would have eased that transition and helped previously uninsured Americans as well.
Consumer groups and public health experts said paying hospitals for uncompensated care would not help the millions of Americans who are now without coverage.
“It’s a failure, a fundamental failure, to understand how people get care,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington. He says the focus on paying hospitals for coronavirus patients fails to help doctors treat people, including those without the virus, outside of the hospital to lessen the burden on emergency rooms and hospital staff.
Even hospitals that stood to benefit say using the funds for uncompensated care does not necessarily help the places that are struggling the most and have the least cash reserves to handle the expense.
“Addressing uncompensated care is important, but that alone will not solve the problems Covid-19 creates for our hospitals,” said Erin O’Malley, senior director of policy for America’s Essential Hospitals, the trade group representing the hospitals that treat the large numbers of people without insurance or who qualify for Medicaid.
The virus has left many hospitals in financial distress. Most have put their most profitable lines of business on hold by canceling procedures that are not seen as essential. And some have been investing heavily to ready themselves for coronavirus patients. They have been paying above-market rates for masks, respirators and other medical equipment. Some hospitals, even in large systems with strong balance sheets, have begun laying off staff.
“Uninsured patients need coverage for Covid,” said Chip Kahn, the chief executive of the Federation of American Hospitals, a trade group representing for-profit hospitals. “But Job 1 for the $100 billion fund is to keep hospital doors open and provide resources to cover the extra supplies, equipment and staff necessary to beat the coronavirus.”
The details about how much hospitals will be paid or exactly how the funds will be distributed remain unclear.