By LISA EISENHAUER
Nov. 17, 2020
Offering hope but not certainty for success, CHA is encouraging its members to lobby lawmakers for a new COVID-19 relief package, improvements to maternal health care and for a halt in looming funding cuts to Medicare and Medicaid during the 14-day lame-duck session of Congress that began Monday.
In her opening remarks during CHA's Virtual Legislative Advocacy Conference on Monday, Sr. Mary Haddad, CHA president and chief executive officer said: "While many aspects of how we do advocacy have changed because of the pandemic, the need for our advocacy has not. In fact, the collective voice of our health ministry is needed now more than ever."
Sharing insight, encouragement
CHA provided participants in the conference with talking points on its priority issues and links to resources that outline and explain its legislative agenda for use on virtual visits to Capitol Hill. Many of those resources also are posted in the advocacy section of CHA's website. The conference also included insight from a Republican senator, congressional staffers and a former health care policy adviser about the prospects for congressional action on health care measures. (CHA will post a link to a recording of the conference on the members-only section of its website soon.)
CHA's priorities for the lame-duck session are:
- Quick action on a COVID-19 relief package that includes additional money for testing, personal protective equipment and the Public Health Emergency Fund; extends flexibility for telehealth care; protects and expands health care coverage for the most vulnerable through increased Medicaid funding; provides housing assistance and a moratorium on evictions; and increases benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program.
- Extend the moratorium in Medicare sequestration 2% cuts and Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital cuts though at least the end of 2021.
- Pass the Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act, which would expand Medicaid coverage for one year postpartum and expand presumptive eligibility for pregnant women as well as expand maternal home visitation programs to improve the health and wellbeing of moms and babies.
Lucas Swanepoel, a government relations director for CHA, is urging members to tell their representatives and senators what they are experiencing due to the pandemic. "It is absolutely urgent that they hear what's happening, particularly now with the kind of surge going on across the country," Swanepoel said.
He and his colleagues on CHA's advocacy and public policy team said there is still time to schedule meetings with lawmakers to push for legislation in the final days of the session and there is reason to hope that those lawmakers will act. Paulo Pontemayor, a government relations director for CHA, said: "Even if your member has lost their election, they still have these 14 legislative days to make a big difference for a year-end package."
Seeing beyond divisions
Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said in remarks taped for the conference that despite the stark political divisions in the nation's capital, he is confident there are areas where lawmakers from both parties can work together, such as on the issues of telehealth care and improving access to health care. He also expressed hope that the currently Democrat-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate can compromise to craft a new COVID relief package that both chambers can agree on, although he didn't offer any specifics on what that package might include.
Allison Orris, a health care policy adviser in the Obama administration who is now with the consulting firm Manatt Health, said the prospects for a COVID relief package to pass in the next few days is unclear. What could prove more significant for health care providers, she said, is whether the Trump administration moves to enshrine its policies and rule changes, such as approving additional state waivers tying work requirements to Medicaid eligibility. Orris said that such action could slow the process for President-elect Joe Biden to pursue his own health care priorities, which he has already stated include more support for COVID-19 testing and care and shoring up the Affordable Care Act.
Lisa A. Smith, CHA vice president of advocacy and public policy, pointed out that history has shown it to be "a tremendous challenge" for a divided Congress to pass legislation, especially related to health care. "But I do think that members of Congress will be anxious to show that they can find some agreement," Smith said. "I think at this point we need to really try and be optimistic and express what we're seeing," encouraging health care organizations to share with lawmakers what is happening on the ground due to the spread of the pandemic.
She added that CHA members play a vital part in her team's efforts to influence lawmakers. "Catholic health care has always played a unique role in our relations with congressional offices because our advocacy, based in the church's social teachings, really touches on issues of importance to members of both parties," she said. "I think the goodwill that we have been able to establish with the help of all the advocacy efforts from across our ministry will continue to make the voice of Catholic health care something that can help bridge the partisan divide."
Tell CHA about your visits with lawmakers
CHA would like to hear details about the virtual Capitol Hill visits conference participants are making. Members are asked to email to Leslie Brown, CHA's Advocacy and Public Policy Coordinator, with information about congressional offices contacted along with the names of meeting participants. Questions about setting up appointments or following-up after congressional contacts can be directed to CHA's directors of government relations: Lucas Swanepoel or Paulo Pontemayor.
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