Coronavirus Daily Update: Republicans Prepare to Unveil New Stimulus Package; Public Health Emergency Extended

What you need to know from Friday-Sunday (July 24-26):

— White House officials and Senate Republicans are finalizing a new stimulus package. It reportedly contains more $1,200 stimulus checks for Americans, tax credits for small businesses, reemployment bonuses and retention bonuses, among other relief. One of the primary goals of this package is to enable businesses to rehire employees that had been laid off. Previously, the unemployment perks in many cases were a better option than working, which caused challenges for in-home care businesses.

— In-home care companies are still dealing with employment problems, too. While in-home care franchise Always Best Care, for instance, has seen a 16% to 25% increase in its services since March, it is struggling to retain and recruit workers, according to Fox Business. “To a certain extent, the caregivers have opted not to work during this pandemic because they can afford to do it now,” Always Best Care CEO Jake Brown told Fox. “Prior to March, Always Best Care franchises were able to recruit and retain caregivers more successfully, as the state unemployment benefits were not sufficient plus there was a level of difficulty to receive those benefits, as an employee had to justify cause.”

— Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, put out a reminder last week that even if a vaccine was cleared, it would take a few more months to get it deployed to Americans. However, he is confident one will be available and deployed by 2021. “I think as we get into 2021, several months in, that you would have [a] vaccine that would be widely available to people in the United States,” Fauci told the Washington Post’s Bob Costa during a Post Live event.

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— As of Friday night, more than 4.1 million COVID-19 cases and over 145,000 deaths had been reported in the U.S. Newly reported cases are not slowing down, which has prompted a group of experts to urge another shutdown. “Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st. Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential activities,” the letter said.

Public health emergency extended

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar signed an order to extend the public health emergency, which will enable home-based care providers to continue receiving relief during the COVID-19 crisis.

The emergency order was set to expire at the end of this month. Now, the declaration is set to last until October 23. The news is a massive relief for both Medicare and Medicaid providers on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

“We applaud Secretary Azar’s decision to renew the public health emergency declaration,”  David Totaro, the chairman of the Partnership for Medicaid Home-Based Care (PMHC), said in a statement. “Home and community-based care providers continue to have significant demands placed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic. The flexibilities granted under the emergency declaration are critical to home care providers and the direct care workforce delivering Medicaid home- and community-based services to seniors.”

What you need to know from Thursday (July 23):

— The United States has hit another devastating milestone: 4 million people in the U.S. have now tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. For context, the U.S. hit the 3 million mark just 15 days ago.

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— Over the past few months, the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) and its data science team have been building a contact-tracing tool to help home- and community-based care providers limit the spread of the coronavirus. It revealed Thursday that it’s also making that tool available to other providers for free.

— While many senior care organizations have received financial relief under the CARES Act’s Provider Relief Fund, senior living communities have largely been left to fend for themselves. A new national survey of voters, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates, shows 80% of voters support COVID-19 relief funding for senior living communities.

Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) announced Thursday that it will mail more than 1 million in-home preventive care screening kits to its members in 2020, helping increase access to routine screenings that many have put off during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What you need to know from Wednesday (July 22):

— HHS announced that more than 1,000 hospitals will receive over $10 billion in hotspot COVID-19 funding, with the largest amounts going to Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. The funding will focus on reimbursing providers who cared for a disproportionately high number of patients through the beginning of June, according to AdvantEdge.

— HHS also will be sending $5 billion to all skilled nursing facilities in the U.S, President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday.

— Enhanced federal funding for Medicaid could help states struggling from the effects of COVID-19, but it won’t offset all of the state revenue declines, according to an analysis from Kaiser Family Foundation. Enhanced funding, in many cases, will likely continue as long as a public health emergency is declared in many cases. “Even if the fiscal relief is in place for all of state fiscal year (SFY) 2021, early reports show that some states are projecting revenue decline of up to 20% for SFY,” the analysis read. “Pre-pandemic state estimates of state revenue were $944 billion for SFY2021, so federal fiscal relief available through the FFCRA accounts for roughly 4% of state revenues for SFY2021. This means many states still will likely need to make large cuts in many areas of their budget, including Medicaid, to meet balanced budget requirements.”

— Millions of Americans who bought insurance to help them pay for either a nursing home or home health care are now having to face a tough choice. They must decide whether they leave those paid-for benefits untouched or go ahead with their plans and possibly increase their risk of contracting COVID-19, the Financial Advisor reports.

— Senior living is experimenting with technology during the COVID-19 crisis. CHI Living Communities harnessed telecommunication’s power to keep families connected when visitors became rare. CHI has embraced FaceTime and Zoom to keep families and friends connected as well as telehealth when applicable, Senior Housing News reports. HHCN previously connected with CommonSpirit Health at Home (formerly CHI Health at Home) in May.

A New York Times report found that the spike in coronavirus cases in the U.S. is not tied to an increase in testing. If testing was to blame for the increased case count, the positivity rate would have fallen, but it has not done so. Since June, the positive test rate has nearly doubled, according to NYT.

What you need to know from Tuesday (July 21):

— HHS has launched a new coronavirus database. Officials say the data hub paints a more complete picture of the COVID-19 outbreak than the database previously compiled by the CDC. HHS took over collecting COVID-19 hospitalization data last week.

— President Donald Trump held his first coronavirus briefing since April Tuesday, and said that the COVID-19 crisis is going to get worse before it gets better. “That’s something I don’t like saying, but it is,” Trump said. He also reiterated that Americans should be socially distancing and wearing masks in public places. Additionally, he expressed optimism regarding vaccine trials and said his administration would “stop at nothing to save lives, shield the vulnerable.” Hopefully for home-based care providers, that means more relief is on the way.

— Providers should continue to keep an eye out for a new coronavirus stimulus package. Recents reports stated that a fifth stimulus package could be released as early as this week. New reports confirm that White House officials and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have set out to reach an agreement by the end of next week.
— The number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. could be 10 times higher than reported, according to new CDC data reported by The Washington Post. So far, more than 3.8 million infections have been reported.

What you need to know from Monday (July 20):

— The $600 COVID-19-inspired add-on to unemployment benefits is coming to an end after this week. Normal unemployment benefits will continue to be paid out, but no plan to extend the federal benefit has been announced. Despite the unemployment boost coming to an end, rising unemployment rates haven’t slowed down; last week, over 1 million more unemployment claims were reported. Less money during unemployment could help home-based care operators get certain workers back. Previously, the unemployment benefits had been too tough for agencies to match at times.

— The U.S. passed 140,000 deaths due to COVID-19, which currently accounts for more than a quarter of deaths from the virus worldwide. On Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to Quest Diagnostics, which handles COVID-19 testing, to conduct “pool testing,” according to NPR. That would allow multiple samples to be tested at the same time. If results come back negative, all the samples are negative. If a positive test comes back, individual tests are required.

— A new relief package is supposed to roll out from Washington, D.C., in the coming days, but there are divisions between the Senate GOP majority and the White House that are making it harder than expected, according to the AP. Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an idea for what should be prioritized in the new package. “The package from McConnell had been quietly crafted behind closed doors for weeks and was expected to include $75 billion to help schools reopen, reduced unemployment benefits alongside a fresh round of direct $1,200 cash payments to Americans, and a sweeping five-year liability shield against coronavirus lawsuits,” AP’s Lisa Mascaro wrote. HHCN has further details here.

— With rumors of the new package swirling, the American Health Care Association (AHCA) sent an open letter to Congress, urging them to consider more prioritized testing for at-risk members in long-term care settings as well as $100 billion more in relief funding for long-term care providers, among other requests.

— A community-based palliative care benefit is gaining traction, according to Hospice News. A slew of home-based care providers are either already in the palliative care space or are interested in getting into it — and palliative care has been especially relevant during the COVID-19 outbreak. A specific benefit could provide another revenue stream for providers moving forward.

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For daily updates from the week of April 20, click here.

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For daily updates from the week of March 30, click here.

For daily updates from the week of March 23, click here.

For daily updates from the week of March 16, click here.

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