In response to the fast-moving global health emergency caused by COVID-19, Congress has approved $8.3 billion in emergency supplemental funding. The aid will help federal agencies prepare to manage and contain the spread of this highly contagious respiratory illness. In addition to providing funds for preparedness and response activities, the new law makes it easier for Medicare providers to evaluate their patients remotely during this national health emergency.
COVID-19 was initially recognized overseas last year and the first case in the United States was diagnosed in January. The number of active cases has grown, and the President declared a national emergency on March 13. In the past few weeks, many public events and gatherings have been cancelled, postponed, or moved online.
COVID-19 produces a respiratory illness that presents with flu-like symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Older people and those with serious chronic conditions appear to be most susceptible to the virus. COVID-19 can be spread from person to person and experts are recommending frequent handwashing and avoiding contact with anyone who may be sick. Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, although scientists are working diligently on vaccine development. The incidences of active illness remain low in the U.S. However, the federal government is taking preventive steps to manage the spread of the virus.
Distribution of funding in the emergency appropriations bill are below:
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services: The telehealth provisions are estimated to increase Medicare spending by $490 million.
Office of the HHS Secretary: $3.4 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to pay for countermeasures, vaccine development, and enhancements to manufacturing technology.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: $2.2 billion to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, with $950 million of that amount designated for grants to states, territories, localities, and tribes for preparedness and response activities such as surveillance, epidemiology, laboratory capacity, infection control, mitigation, and communications.
Agency for International Development: $435 million for global health preparation and response, $300 million for international disaster assistance, and $250 million for the economic support fund.
National Institutes of Health: $836 million for prevention, preparation, and response activities including training to prevent and reduce exposure of hospital employees, emergency first responders, and other workers at risk of coronavirus exposure.
Department of State: $264 million for maintaining consular services and evacuation preparedness.
Food and Drug Administration: $61 million for development of countermeasures and vaccines, advanced manufacturing for medical products, and monitoring the medical supply chain.
Small Business Administration: $20 million for disaster loans for economic injury.
There will be more federal action on COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months. A bill expanding paid sick leave, payment for COVID-19 testing, and other provisions passed the House of Representatives. Congress may provide additional emergency funding for other agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
We are awaiting more detailed guidance from CMS about how providers can be reimbursed through the new Medicare telehealth provisions. Because older and health-compromised individuals are more susceptible to the virus, telehealth services are a promising way to protect the health of the nation’s most vulnerable demographic.

Join Caravan experts for a series of webinars on COVID-19 preparedness and response. Register here.

On Thursday, March 19 10:30 PT/1:30 ET, join a webinar on rural health system COVID-19 preparedness led by Caravan Health Founder Lynn Barr and VP of Customer Success Greg Paris.

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