On Tuesday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled their vision for the next round of coronavirus relief legislation, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. The comprehensive bill reflects that significant and ongoing pandemic-related challenges have yet to be addressed, including many of those facing older adults and people with disabilities. While further reforms will likely be needed, the HEROES Act is an important step in the right direction.
Among the bill’s reforms are several of Medicare Rights’ priorities:
Ensure Affordability Is Not a Barrier to Treatment. The HEROES Act eliminates cost-sharing for coronavirus treatment under Medicaid and Medicare for the duration of the public health emergency.
Facilitate Access to Medicare. Critically, the bill seeks to establish a Medicare Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for Premium Part A and Part B, with coverage beginning the first day of the next month. This enrollment pathway is urgently needed to help Medicare-eligible individuals connect with their coverage quickly and easily during this unprecedented crisis.
Empower Beneficiary Decision-Making. The bill contains important outreach and education strategies to help people who lose employer-based health insurance during the pandemic avoid costly Part B enrollment mistakes.
Protect Nursing Home Residents. Several HEROES Act provisions are designed to improve nursing home and resident safety, including funding for states to help manage outbreaks and assist with clinical care, infection control, and staffing. The bill also encourages the establishment of coronavirus-specific nursing home facilities, provides new safety and quality protections, and ensures residents can conduct “televisitations” with loved ones while in-person visits are limited.
Support State Medicaid Programs. The legislation increases federal Medicaid payments to states—the Federal Matching Assistance Percentage (FMAP)—by a total of 14% for one year (July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021). It also directs enhanced funding to Medicaid Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) and requires state Medicaid programs to cover non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).
House passage of the HEROES Act is expected this week—but swift enactment is not. Rather than take up the bill as-is, Republicans in the Senate are planning to outline separate legislative priorities for the next relief package. In the coming weeks, congressional and White House negotiators will attempt to reconcile the two approaches.
As these conversations evolve, Medicare Rights will continue to urge federal policymakers to prioritize older adults, people with disabilities, and their families in any final legislation. We will also share advocacy alerts and opportunities to make your voice heard. Together, we can help ensure the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak protects and strengthens Medicare, as well as the health and economic security of those who rely on its coverage.