ACR calls on Congress to approve financial support for practices impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns
Physicians and advocates from the American College of Rheumatology are set to meet — virtually — with legislators Friday, May 22, to push for direct federal relief for vulnerable specialty practices that have been financially impacted by efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“Providers are thankful for the initial funding support received from the CARES Act, however it is clear from talking with my colleagues across the country that these funds will not be adequate to maintain patient access to care and ensure provider solvency over the longer term of this pandemic,” Blair Solow, MD, chair of the ACR’s Government Affairs Committee, said in a press release. “CARES Act funding is not required to support staffing or the maintenance of staff salaries, so funds received by larger health care systems and organizations may not prevent job loss, furloughed positions or salary cuts.”
“To protect patient access, we’re calling on Congress to go even further in the next emergency relief legislative package,” she added. “We’re also encouraging rheumatology professionals to contact their legislators directly through the ACR’s Legislative Action Center or on social media to let them know about the impact in their state.”
According to the ACR, many rheumatology practices are struggling to make payroll and rent, with some even forced to close, in the name of protecting patients from contracting the coronavirus. Those that have stayed open have deferred patient visits and adopted telehealth for lab review, phone calls, prior authorizations and medication refills, all of which require staff and physician resources. Other practices have been forced to increase staff or extend work hours to treat normal volumes of patients, due to limits on the number of people allowed in the clinic at any one time.
Additionally, larger hospital systems have announced billions in loses, the release added.
“We’re excited that during the ACR’s virtual Hill Day, rheumatology leaders will be holding more than 130 conference calls with Capitol Hill offices to discuss these critical issues,” Solow told Healio Rheumatology.
As Congress moves, in its own way, toward with the next possible phase of COVID-19 relief legislation, the ACR is urging lawmakers to consider the following measures to assist rheumatology and other vulnerable specialist practices:
- Authorize direct, one-time grants for providers that are equal to their total payroll and overhead costs dating from Jan. 1 to April 1, 2019, as recommended by the American Medical Association;
- Grants and forgivable loan programs aimed at rectifying furloughs and salary cuts among health care providers and staff; and
- Mandate that any additional funding for CARES Act programs first be directed at protecting the salaries and jobs of the providers and staff employed by the recipient practices and organizations.
“With regard to additional forthcoming COVID-19 legislation, we do anticipate a longer timeframe to see a package that takes into consideration more specific needs as the public health emergency continues,” Solow said in an interview. “Understanding this, we continue to urge Congress to support the health care system — on which everyone is relying so heavily during this crisis — by providing targeted funding to help practices remain solvent and continue serving patients.”
The ACR is also calling on Congress to pass the Health Care at Home act (H.R. 6644), which it says would extend parity for audio-visual and audio-only telehealth visits in employer-based insurance coverage.
“Such support for telehealth access and adequate reimbursement will improve access to care for those in rural and underserved areas and help providers deliver more efficient health care to patients in need even after this crisis has passed,” the ACR said in the release.
The ACR is also urging lawmakers to support CMS’ Physician Fee Schedule updates scheduled for January 2021. According to ACR, the updates are necessary to ensure that specialties that treat chronic disease can continue serving patients.
Ellen Gravallese, MD, president of the ACR, said in the press release: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, when we are relying on our health care systems, practices and providers more than ever, we must ensure that rheumatologists and rheumatology professionals — who are already experiencing a severe workforce shortage — can keep their doors open to serve patients.” – by Jason Laday
Disclosures: Gravallese and Solow reports employment with ACR.