The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, H.R. 748) that was signed into law Friday, March 27, 2020, intended to stimulate the national economy by providing ~$2 trillion to certain taxpayers and small businesses and other benefits for specific industry segments. Listed below are highlights with specificity for physicians and their practices:

1. Provisions that will benefit physicians and physician practices:

A. Small business loans.

Small businesses, including physician practices, with no more than 500 employees are eligible to apply for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) section 7(a) Payroll Protection Program. 

This provision allows a small business to apply to an SBA-approved lender for a loan of up to 250 percent of the business’ average monthly payroll costs to cover eight weeks of payroll as well as help with other expenses like rent, mortgage payments, and utilities. The maximum loan amount is $10 million. Sole-proprietors, independent contractors, and other self-employed individuals are eligible. Small businesses with more than one physical location are eligible for each location as long as it has no more than 500 employees per physical location. A loan can be forgiven based on maintaining employee and salary levels. For any portion of the loan that is not forgiven, the terms include a maximum term of 10 years, a maximum interest rate of four percent. Small businesses and organizations will be able to apply if they were harmed by COVID-19 between February 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020. This program is retroactive to February 15, 2020 and is available through June 30, 2020. Two forms (below) should be completed to file:

B. Financial support for physicians and other providers.

Provides $100 billion through the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to provide immediate financial relief by covering non-reimbursable expenses attributable to COVID-19.

Physician practices and like health care entities that provide health care services or diagnosis testing are eligible. Non-reimbursable expenses attributable to COVID-19 qualify for funding. Examples include increased staffing or training, personal protective equipment, and lost revenue. HHS is instructed to review applications and make payments on a rolling basis to get money into the health system as quickly as possible. HHS is given significant flexibility in determining how the funds are allocated and is expected to release guidance on the application process shortly.

C. Emergency loans.

Authorizes $10 billion for an “emergency” Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) to eligible entities with no more than 500 employees. Allows an eligible entity that has applied for an EIDL loan to request an advance on that loan, of not more than $10,000, which the SBA must distribute within three days.

Advance payments may be used for providing paid sick leave to employees, maintaining payroll, meeting increased costs to obtain materials, making rent or mortgage payments, and repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue losses. If a small business receives a Payroll Protection Program loan that is forgiven (see above) any advance amount received under the emergency EIDL would be subtracted from the amount forgiven in the Payroll Protection Program loan.

D. United States Public Health Service Modernization.

A Ready Reserve Corps is established to ensure that we have enough trained doctors and nurses to respond to (COVID-19 and other) public health or national emergencies.

E. Limitation on liability for volunteer health care professionals during COVID-19 emergency response.

For health care professionals who answer the call to serve, the language makes clear that physicians who provide volunteer medical services during the public health emergency related to COVID-19 have liability protections. These new protections are in addition to those provided by the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997. Volunteers are defined as those who are not paid for their services.

F. Temporary Waiver of Requirement for Face-To-Face Visits Between Home Dialysis Patients and Physicians.

For the section of the End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) program which allows a patient to receive monthly ESRD clinical assessments via telehealth, this provision waives the requirements for face-to-face clinical assessment during the first three months of dialysis and at least every three months in the case of a national emergency. This provision will allow physicians to continue to serve their patients in a manner consistent with maintaining safe distances.

G. Adjustment of Sequestration.

Increases provider funding through immediate Medicare sequester relief. During May 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020, Medicare programs are exempt from reduction under any sequestration order issued.

H. Prescription Drug Plans

Requiring Medicare Prescription Drug Plans and MA-PD Plans to Allow During the COVID- 19 Emergency Period for Fills and Refills of Covered Part D Drugs for up to a 3-Month Supply.

This provision will free up the practice resources by allowing prescriptions to be written and filled for a longer period of time.

I. Confidentiality and disclosure of records relating to substance use disorders.

Nothing in the bill requires a patient to consent to share his or her records for treatment, payment, or health care operations (TPO); rather, this section is intended to ease the administrative burden associated with sharing the records of willing individuals who want better care coordination. Additionally, 42 CFR Part 2 programs will not be required to share information for TPO purposes if a patient does not sign a consent form permitting such exchange. In other words, the language in this bill accomplishes the AMA’s goals of easing some of the administrative burden associated with exchanging 42 CFR Part 2 records while still giving patients the critically important option to seek confidential care at a Part 2 program knowing their information will not be shared without their explicit written consent.

J. Further Expanded Access to Lab Testing without Cost-Sharing.

Patients can gain free access to COVID-19 laboratory developed tests (LDTs) irrespective of FDA approval, clearance, or authorization. COVID-19 LDTs developed and authorized by a state that has notified the Secretary of Health and Human Services of its intention to review tests intended to diagnose COVID-19, as well as any other test that the Secretary determines appropriate in guidance, are now able to be provided to patients for free.

K. Pricing of Diagnostic Testing.

Group health plans or a health insurance issuers required to reimburse the provider of a diagnostic test either at the negotiated rate in effect before the COVID-19 public health emergency was in effect or, if there is no negotiated rate, the cash price as publicly listed by the physician. An insurer may negotiate a price less than the cash price. This section ensures that physicians providing the COVID-19 receive accurate reimbursement.

L. Enhanced funding for Personal Protective Equipment.

Includes $16 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile for critical medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and life-saving machines.

M. Supplemental awards for health centers.

Grants up to $1.32 billion will be awarded to supplement funds to health centers specifically for the detection, treatment, prevention and diagnosis of COVID-19.

N. Rural health care services outreach, rural health network development, and small health care provider quality improvement grant programs.

Reauthorizes HRSA grant programs to strengthen rural community health by focusing on quality improvement, increasing health care access, coordination of care, and integration of services. The rationale is, rural residents are disproportionately older and more likely to have a chronic disease, which could increase their risk for more severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

2. Provisions that expand Telehealth

A. Telehealth network and telehealth resource centers grant programs.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant programs that promote the use of telehealth technologies for health care delivery, education, and health information services are included with a specific emphasis on rural health centers. The use of telehealth in rural or medically underserved communities offers providers more flexibility to screen, monitor care, or treat their patients with, or at risk of contracting, COVID-19 while avoiding exposure to others.

B. Increasing Medicare Telehealth Flexibilities During Emergency Period.

The HHS Secretary has the authority to waive requirements during a national emergency and has allowed for increased Medicare telehealth flexibility and uses during COVID-19 pandemic.

C. Enhancing Medicare Telehealth Services for Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics during Emergency Period.

The Secretary allows for enhanced use of telehealth in Medicare for federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health clinics during the emergency period. Payment for these services can be determined by the Secretary or can be comparable to the telehealth rates currently paid for similar services.

D. Temporary Telehealth Provisions.

There is also a temporary waiver of the requirement for face- to-face visits between home dialysis patients and physicians. Telehealth may be used to conduct face-to-face encounters prior to recertification of eligibility for hospice care. Remote patient monitoring for home health services will also be considered.

As more information is made available for the administration of the aforementioned areas, LBMC will provide updates and guidance to further assist physicians and their organizations.

If you have questions or need additional assistance, please contact Andrew McDonald at amcdonald@lbmc.com.