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House stimulus package would expand access to health coverage, provide relief for nonprofits that serve patients

Special health exchange enrollment period, COBRA subsidies, and increased Medicaid funding among numerous health provisions

On May 15, the U.S. House of Representatives approved he Heroes Act, a package of legislative proposals aimed at addressing numerous pandemic-related health, research, and economic relief needs.

The bill still needs Senate approval, and it is not expected to be back in session until sometime in June.

Included in the bill are several provisions that would make it easier for Americans to maintain or gain health insurance coverage, including: a special enrollment period for private coverage through the federal health exchange, subsidies to cover the premium costs of maintaining employer-sponsored health insurance for those who have recently been laid-off or had their hours reduced, and increased federal funding for Medicaid to help states meet their residents' growing need for the health coverage. The bill also calls for ending patient cost sharing for COVID-19 associated treatment expenses for those on Medicare and private insurance.

If enacted, federal agencies would also be given authority to modernize their data collection methods and infrastructure related to health inequities. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) would receive $4.75 billion to expand COVID-19 research and to help support the shutdown and startup costs of biomedical research laboratories nationwide. And, additional nonprofits would be able to access necessary relief funds through the business relief programs.

A statement from Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), and issued before the bill's approval, follows:

"The need to ensure Americans can maintain or obtain health coverage is more urgent than ever. Millions of Americans—including those with a history of cancer— have lost their jobs and their employer-sponsored health insurance. Many others were uninsured when this pandemic hit and need access to care. Providing subsides to help people keep their health plans, allowing a special enrollment period for those who want to obtain coverage, and increasing Medicaid funding to meet growing health coverage needs, is critical to keeping patients and the public as healthy as possible.

"Additionally, because cancer patients are at increased risk of developing severe COVID-19 complications, eliminating cost sharing for testing and all COVID-19 associated treatment costs could help patients avert extreme financial burdens.

"Considering the burden from this virus is falling disproportionately on communities of color that lack access to quality health care, we welcome the requirements for agencies to collect demographic data on COVID-19 as a first step in addressing these inequities.

"The funding for NIH is an important initial investment in getting critical biomedical research restarted, but much more funding will eventually be necessary.

"All of these measures, along with enabling additional nonprofits to begin seeking economic assistance through the business relief programs, are important for implementing a comprehensive approach to the pandemic's wide and varied effects.

"On behalf of all those impacted by cancer, we urge the House to quickly pass this legislation and for the Senate to take it up and swiftly give millions of Americans the vital assistance they need." 


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