Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Congress returns this week from their summer vacations and there doesn’t seem to be a more important time to do so. The initial round of COVID relief is set to expire in the coming days and weeks and Americans are expecting (and needing) a response. States, such as ours, are skyrocketing with cases, but are hesitant for another shutdown. With worries of the health of the population and also the US economy, it is more important than ever to find some sort of resolve.
At the end of this week, the additional $600 in unemployment benefits from the CARES Act comes to an end. This means that the additional money that those who were furloughed or laid off because of the pandemic have been receiving will stop. They will still be qualified for regular unemployment pay, but that additional income has been crucial for millions. While this will have a negative impact on many, we also see reports of employees not wanting to return to work because they are making more on unemployment than they would in their jobs. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be any indication of new relief before this runs out.
With the CARES Act coming to an end, there is more to be concerned about than only unemployment benefits. Many organizations spent their PPP loan money and without being able to operate their businesses at full speed, many will face another round of furloughs, layoffs and potential closures. There is still money left in the PPP loan funds and there has been some talk of using those funds to help smaller businesses, but everything is negotiable at this point. Additionally, individuals have long spent their stimulus checks and there must be some consideration of how to help those individuals who are struggling. Additional financial stimulus is expected to be a huge part of the next relief package negotiation.
In addition to the CARES Act, the public health emergency declaration is also set to expire on July 25th. These declarations automatically expire after 90 days and require renewals in order for all of the conditions listed under it to continue. This is important because this declaration has allowed for loosened telehealth regulations, additional reimbursement for COVID inpatients, and the requirement that insurers cover COVID testing. With the current state of the healthcare system, these measures are crucial to ensure that physicians are able to provide high quality care and be compensated appropriately to do so. It is expected that this will be extended without too much issue, but as always, things can change in an instant.
Locally in San Antonio, we are facing an explosion of new COVID cases, with thousands of pending tests still sitting in labs. The situation has gotten so bad that some local laboratories refused to take new tests for 2 weeks in order to catch up on the backlog. Our community has consistently been running on only 10% available hospital beds, which is probably an optimistic estimate. The facilities we work with are reporting that they are at capacity and adding additional beds in hallways or wherever they can. They are facing provider shortages from staff getting sick and also burning out. The outlook does not seem to be improving and while many including Judge Wolff and Governor Abbott have said that another shutdown is not an option, something has to give.
In order to remain successful, we have emphasized the use of telehealth services, urgent/emergent care for specialists, credentialing for new insurers and expense management. These have been vital to helping small, independent practices stay afloat during this time. With the future of COVID relief still uncertain, operating changes are going to be necessary to survive.