Federal Aid: Is Hazard Pay Next?

April 6, 2020

Physician practices are being hit hard by the pandemic.

Soon after the U.S. government provided some financial relief for physician practices, the Trump administration may also provide hazard pay for doctors on the front lines of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The most recent government stimulus bill provided $100 billion in direct financial support to physician practices, hospitals, and other healthcare providers under the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, the AMA said in a press release.

“This support is for costs of treating COVID-19 patients as well as to ease the financial impact on those who lose revenue due reductions in other services as a result of the pandemic. Exact eligibility criteria and application process is not yet defined pending implementation,” AMA said.

Trending: CMS program could provide financial relief for practices

The stimulus bill also provides Small Business Administration loans of up to $10 million to help cover payroll and overhead costs, with expanded loan forgiveness criteria. Physician practices with not more than 500 employees may qualify.

“Physician practices are being hard-hit by the pandemic, which is threatening the sustainability of practices and could reduce access to care,” said AMA Patrice Harris, MD, in the press release. “We are urging the Administration to expedite the creation of programs included in the stimulus legislation to enable the dissemination of financial support to meet the urgent need facing many physician practices.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is exploring the possibility of providing hazard pay for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. In an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Fox News, President Donald Trump said he is "looking at" providing additional pay for health care workers, CBS News reported.

That financial aid could come in a separate relief package, according to Trump.

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

Many legislators are also urging hazard pay for healthcare workers. 

“These nurses, these doctors, health care workers, they're risking their lives. I’m sure when they walk to work or take the subway to work, they're wondering, will I catch this virus? But they're like the firefighters and police officers and construction workers were heroes of 9/11; these are our heroes today. And they should get hazard pay,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said, NPR reported.

“In the next coronavirus relief package that Congress passes, essential workers -first responders, hospital and medical workers, grocery store workers, farm workers, etc.-should receive hazard pay from their government or their company,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) tweeted.

Read More: Coding during the Coronavirus pandemic

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also recently provided financial relief to physician practices. “Practicing medicine is harrowing and dangerous in the face of the pandemic, but less noticed is the fiscal peril that many practices face. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has recognized this, and its recent action to immediately send accelerated payments to physicians will help keep practices open to Medicare patients,” Harris said in a press release.

Other provisions of the stimulus bill that will help physician practices include:

  • Suspension of the 2 percent Medicare sequester in May through December 2020.

  • Limitations on liability for volunteer health care professionals during COVID-19 emergency response.

  • A temporary waiver of the face-to-face visit requirement with home dialysis patients.

  • Authority for the Secretary of HHS to waive telehealth coverage requirements for new patients during a national emergency. Previous legislation provided flexibility only for established patients seen within the past three years.

Secretary of HHS will also allow for enhanced use of telehealth under Medicare for federally qualified health centers.