This week, Congress continued work on a year-end legislative deal, with bills to fund the federal government through September expected to form the base of the package. Other critical items—including some COVID-19 relief and health care policies—may also be included. Negotiators are hoping to reach an agreement by December 19, but that date could slip.
Despite recent momentum, reports indicate that a deal on COVID-19 relief remains elusive. There are several unresolved issues and competing visions for how to move forward. One such plan, crafted by a group of bipartisan lawmakers and released yesterday, is the most detailed framework yet. Though still in draft form, the summary offers a glimpse into the group’s priorities and the ongoing negotiations. Regardless of what, if any, COVID-19 assistance Congress provides this month, it is likely to be relatively targeted. As a result, future relief legislation may be needed early next year.
Separately, lawmakers are examining an array of health care policies for inclusion in the spending package. Some are known as “extenders” because they require regular renewal. This includes funding for community-based organizations that provide outreach and enrollment to low-income Medicare beneficiaries, financial protections for people whose spouses are on Medicaid and in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and Medicaid’s Money Follows the Person program, which supports individuals who wish to leave nursing facilities and return to their homes. Medicare Rights supports investment in these and other initiatives that help older adults and people with disabilities live with health and dignity.
Another outstanding item is the BENES Act. Passed by the House on Tuesday, the bill now heads to the Senate. Medicare Rights applauds this advancement, and thanks the bill’s House leads—Representatives Ruiz (D-CA), Bilirakis (R-FL), Schneider (D-IL), and Walorski (R-IN)—the staff and members of the Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce committees, and the BENES Act’s many supporters for their tireless engagement. We look forward to continuing to work together towards enactment. To that end, Medicare Rights urges lawmakers to prioritize the BENES Act for final passage this year. The bill remains urgently needed, strongly bipartisan, and cost effective.