The Trump administration announced on Friday that it will pay hospitals to treat uninsured coronavirus patients, a persistent problem in America that has been magnified in light of the global pandemic.
The government will pay for the costs of treating uninsured patients with a $100 billion fund for hospitals established by the $2.2 trillion stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, approved last week. The government said that hospitals that get funding would not be allowed to send patients additional bills for the treatment provided.
“This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment,” President Donald Trump said on Friday.
Hospitals will be paid the same rates they receive for Medicare patients, according to the New York Times, which are lower rates than those typically paid by private insurance companies.
Recently, the Trump administration had also been facing criticism for not creating a special enrollment period for people that seek insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Reopening the marketplace, which the government controls in 38 states, would have made it easier for people who have recently lost their jobs or were already uninsured to obtain coverage. More than 6.65 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week—a historic high more than double that of the previous week.
In its November 2019 report, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 27.5 million people, or 8.5 percent of the population, did not have health insurance the year before.
Per the Times, the Trump administration says that its plan is more efficient than reopening enrollment under the Affordable Care Act to achieve the same goal.
However, some consumer healthcare advocates say that this measure is no substitute for comprehensive health insurance. Families USA, a national, nonpartisan consumer healthcare advocacy organization, is one of them. The organization considers the administration’s recent decision to be a potentially positive step, although it underscores that this will also depend on the details of its implementation.
Stan Dorn, director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation and senior fellow at Families USA, said it was shocking that Trump refused to let the uninsured sign up for Affordable Care Act health insurance.
“Health insurance makes it possible for people to seek medical attention when they first get sick. That enables prompt detection and treatment of disease,” Dorn told Gizmodo. “With nothing more than funding for hospital services, many uninsured patients will delay care until they become so sick that they must go to the hospital.”
Dorn added that this risks grim consequences for the uninsured and puts others in danger by accelerating the spread of the disease.
Although hospitals welcomed the relief provided for them by the CARES Act, some did not think that the Trump administration should have paid for treatment for uninsured patients with the $100 billion fund.
In a statement, Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, said his group had encouraged the Trump administration to consider various options for treating uninsured coronavirus patients besides the CARES Act, including opening a special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, expanding Medicaid or using other emergency programs.
Pollack said that the CARES Act was intended to provide hospitals with an infusion of financial relief given that many are incurring substantial expenses to prepare for and deal with the covid-19 outbreak. He added that since nearly all regular operations had come to a halt, such as elective or scheduled procedures, there were “limited revenues coming in, causing major cash flow concerns that threaten the viability of hospitals.”
“This is also creating a historic financial crisis, threatening the ability to keep our doors open for both the insured and uninsured alike,” Pollack said.
Update 5:55pm ET, April 6: Added comment from Families USA.