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INFORMATIONAL ALERT:
Congress Closing in on Omnibus Package, COVID-19 Relief

Congress has until Friday to fund the government and there are indications that both sides are closing in on a $1.4 trillion omnibus package that funds the government through FY 21. The expectation is that legislative text will be unveiled later this evening or tomorrow, giving Congress four days to finalize the spending package. 

On COVID-19 relief, a bipartisan group of Congressional negotiators is expected to unveil the relief deal this evening or tomorrow as well. After weeks of negotiating, the emerging deal is expected to be broken into two parts: one package of consensus items totaling roughly $750 billion and a second package worth roughly $160 billion on provisions that are more contentious. The $750B package would include unemployment insurance, small-business relief, such as funding in the Paycheck Protection Program, funding for vaccine distribution, and more. The $160B package would include state and local funding and liability provisions, both of which have limited bipartisan support.

In addition to these two items, negotiators from the key health care committees in the House and Senate reached a deal that would end surprise medical billing. The legislation would establish a process for insurers and providers to resolve payment disputes through arbitration if they cannot reach an agreement on their own. This process, which would largely remove the patient from these disputes, allows for an independent dispute resolution process with a third-party arbiter. 

For patients, the agreement states that patients would not be required to pay more than their own insurance plan’s in-network rates, for both emergencies and non-emergency situations should there be out-of-network billing. There would be narrow set of circumstances where out-of-network providers would be permitted to bill patients for out-of-network charges, such as if they informed the patient of their network status at least 72 hours before a procedure and the patient consented. While this package is long overdue, there are still several hurdles to passage as it is not entirely clear if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will agree to put the package forward for a vote.

Congress is expected to put these items together over the course of this week and pass them, funding the government through September 2021 and delivering a variety of stakeholders needed relief to help get through the next few months. Stakeholders are also closely watching to see if negotiators include long-term funding for key health care extenders. The initial word was programs like Money Follows the Person would get a three-month extension, meaning they would need to extend the program again sometime in March. If Congress can clear the decks by Friday, they are expected to leave town for the year, returning on Sunday, January 3, 2021, just two days before the special election in Georgia, which will determine the majority in the United States Senate. 

Easterseals National is closely monitoring these moving parts and will keep you posted on any developments.

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