Is COVID-19 hazard pay on the way?

May 15, 2020
Christine Blank

$3 trillion U.S. aid proposal may finally lead to pay.

While physicians and legislators have been urging hazard pay for physicians and healthcare workers on the front lines of battling COVID-19, it has yet to become a reality. However, a new $3 trillion U.S. aid proposal -along with other legislative and grassroots efforts-may finally lead to hazard pay.

This week, democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled the Heroes Act, a $3 trillion coronavirus aid package. The Heroes Act includes $1 trillion for states, cities and tribal governments to avert layoffs, along with a second wave of stimulus checks ($1,200 direct cash aid to individuals increased to up to $6,000 per household), $75 billion additional funds for virus testing, and numerous other programs, Fox News reported.

Notably, the Heroes Act includes $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers. The Act does not specify how much would be designated for healthcare workers.

However, hazard pay via the Heroes Act could take a while to move through the process. Senate Republicans have said they won’t vote on new relief bills until after the Memorial Day weekend.

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There are other hazard pay proposals in play, though.

More than 1.1 million people have signed MoveOn member Najaka Carter’s petition urging Congress to provide all essential workers with $600 hazard pay beyond their normal compensation, “in one of the fastest-growing petitions in MoveOn history,” a MoveOn representative said in an email to Physicians Practice.

New York University medical student residents asked NYU Langone Hospital for “significant” additional pay for the duration of the pandemic, along with $1 million life insurance coverage and other benefits. They also requested that they receive no medical bills for any testing, treatment, ER visit or hospitalization related to COVID-19.

“As doctors, we are committed to serving our patients. However, during this unprecedented time, we now find ourselves sad our families at risk in ways we never imagined,” the medical residents wrote. “Despite local and national efforts to protect us, healthcare workers are getting sick, and in several instances, dying of COVID… In addition, we are expiring both increased hours and patient loads in the ED, on the wars, and in the ICU.”

Other hospitals in New York City have already raised wages and provided additional benefits for residents, they said in the letter.

However, NYU Langone’s administration denied the request, The Intercept reported. The request for hazard pay is “not becoming of a compassionate and caring physician,” the hospital’s director of urology sad, according to The Intercept.

“I used my personal phone so a family could video chat with their mom as she was dying,” a resident identified as “Peter” told The Intercept. “To be told I lack compassion because I think that that’s worth extra compensation when I’m exposing myself to a virus in order to do that … it’s hard to come back from that.”

Meanwhile, other Congressional bills could funnel some hazard pay funds to physicians. Senator Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) "Patriot Pay" proposal said frontline workers should receive a temporary hourly bonus of up to $12 per hour for those making under $50,000 annually. 

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For essential employees making over $50,000 annually, the tax credit phases out by $24 for every additional $500 in income until annualized incomes hit $90,000.

“Health care professionals, grocery store workers, food processors, and many others-the unsung patriots on the frontline of this pandemic-every day risk their safety for the health and well-being of our country, and they deserve our unwavering support,” Romney said in a press release. “Patriot Pay is a way for us to reward our essential workers as they continue to keep Americans safe, healthy, and fed.”

Similarly, U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) recently introduced the Coronavirus Frontline Workers Fair Pay Act, which would give high-risk health care workers a hazard pay increase of $18.50 per hour, and other essential workers would receive an increase of $13 per hour. 

The additional pay would be capped at $35,000 and $25,000, respectively, and would be retroactive to January 31, 2020. It would be available through the end of this year.

The Trump administration said in early April that it was exploring the possibility of providing hazard pay for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. 

"We are looking at different ways of doing it, primarily through the hospitals," Trump said. "If anybody's entitled to it, they are.”

The American Medical Association declined to comment on the various  hazard pay proposals.

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