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March 25, 2020

White House, Senate leaders announce deal on $2T coronavirus stimulus package

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    The White House and leaders in the Senate early Wednesday announced that they've reached an agreement on a $2 trillion legislative package intended to stimulate the economy and help Americans, health care providers, and businesses grappling with the United States' coronavirus epidemic.

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    The Senate is scheduled to reconvene midday Wednesday and vote on the package.

    US COVID-19 cases grew tenfold in one week

    The announcement comes as the number of reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, increased tenfold in the United States within one week, as more Americans are getting tested for the disease. As of Wednesday morning, state and federal officials had reported 53,934 cases of COVID-19 and 728 deaths linked to the new coronavirus in the United States.

    World Health Organization officials have warned that the United States is on pace to become a new epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic.

    White House, Senate leaders reach deal on economic stimulus package

    The new coronavirus' spread in the United States and throughout the world has had severe economic effects, causing volatility in global stock markets and several countries to shut down businesses and implement strict lockdowns aimed at containing the virus' spread. In the United States, many states and localities have ordered bars and dining establishments to restrict their services to carry-out and delivery and have ordered entertainment, recreational, and retail facilities to close down completely. Several states have ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

    As a result, the Trump administration and federal lawmakers so far have enacted two legislative packages aimed at stimulating the United States' economy and protecting workers from income and job losses related to the country's coronavirus epidemic. Early Wednesday, Trump administration officials, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that they have reached a deal on a third economic stimulus package.

    Details of the package

    Congressional officials still were writing the bill as of Wednesday morning and officials had not yet released the bill's text. However, officials have said the legislative package includes funding for health care providers and businesses and would provide cash payments to Americans. According to the Washington Post, the economic package is "unprecedented in its size and scope."

    Health care provisions

    Officials said the new agreement would provide at least $130 billion to help support hospitals and other health care providers, and Schumer said the legislation will include additional funding for other health care-related needs.

    An earlier version of the proposal included provisions intended to expand testing for COVID-19, encourage the development of new vaccines and treatments for the disease, and increase the health care workforce. That version also included provisions to provide supplemental funding for community health centers for prevention, diagnostic, and treatment efforts related to COVID-19; create a 20% add-on payment for hospitals treating inpatients with COVID-19; allow the HHS secretary to create and implement a new payment regulation for rural and federally qualified health centers that provide telehealth services to certain patients; and loosen certain telehealth restrictions.

    Further, the earlier version of the proposal included provisions to temporarily suspend requirements that home dialysis patients see their physicians in person and suspend Medicare sequester cuts from May 1 to Dec. 31, though it called for extending the sequester cuts for a year past their current end date. The measure also called for extending funding for certain Medicare programs that are set to expire on May 22 and delaying cuts to disproportionate-share hospital payments that are scheduled to take effect May 22.

    It is unclear whether the health care provisions included in the earlier version of the proposal will be included in the agreement reached Wednesday.

    Economic stimulus proposals

    People familiar with the new agreement have said it includes $250 billion for the federal government to provide direct payments to eligible Americans. Sources said the proposal would enable the federal government to provide direct payments of between $600 and $1,200 to individual Americans with annual incomes of $75,000 or less and between $1,200 and $2,400 for eligible married couples with a combined annual income of $150,000 or less. The government also would provide qualifying Americans with direct payments of $500 for each of their children. The federal government would base the payments on the income levels, marital status, and number of children reported in Americans' 2018 tax filings.

    The federal government also would provide direct payments to individuals and married couples with annual incomes above the $75,000 and $150,000 thresholds, but those payments would be reduced by $5 for every $100 in income above the threshold. That means an individual with an annual income of $99,000 or more and married couples with a combined annual income of $198,000 or more would not qualify for any payments.

    People familiar with the new agreement said it also includes at least $350 billion to help small businesses avoid layoffs and pay workers while they remain at home. In addition, the proposal would provide nearly $500 billion in funding to make loan guarantees or investments available to businesses, states, and localities.

    The new agreement also includes an additional $150 billion in state and local stimulus funds, officials said.

    In addition, the new agreement would extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and offer additional assistance to workers furloughed because of the epidemic for four months. Affected workers could receive the amount their respective states typically provide for unemployment plus $600 per week. Under the measure, gig workers, such as Uber drivers, and freelancers for the first time would be eligible for unemployment.

    Next steps

    Senate leaders said they expect the chamber will vote on and approve the measure Wednesday.

    If the Senate approves the bill, the measure will head to the House. House Majority Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has indicated that she would bring the measure up for a vote, despite releasing her own economic stimulus bill earlier this week. "The easiest way for us to do it is to put aside our concerns for another day and get this done," Pelosi said Tuesday, adding, "My goal always has been to bring this bill to the floor under unanimous consent."

    Trump says he wants to reopen US businesses by April 12

    Meanwhile, Trump on Tuesday again said he wants to reopen U.S. businesses within weeks, saying during a Fox News town hall that he would like to have the country "opened up and just raring to go" by April 12. However, Trump during a White House press briefing later on Tuesday said his administration's "decision" on the matter "will be based on hard facts and data."

    Various public health experts have said Americans may have to practice drastic social distancing, such as staying home from work and avoiding in-person social gatherings, for months to curb the new coronavirus' spread and avoid overburdening the country's health care system. In addition, public health experts have warned that easing social distancing measures too soon could cause the epidemic to resurge and lead to more illness and death, which ultimately could stress the economy for a longer period of time.

    Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday said moves to reopen businesses in the United States could offer "flexibility in different areas" and likely would not apply to areas that are COVID-19 hot spots, such as New York. However, he said the administration will need to look at data on areas of the country that appear to be less affected by the epidemic before making decisions. "We need to know what's going on in those areas of the country where there isn't an obvious outbreak," Fauci said.

    Fauci added that the timing for making such decisions is "really very flexible." He said, "You can look at a date but you've got to be very flexible and on a literally day-by-day and week-by-week basis. You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you're trying to do" (Taylor et al., Associated Press, 3/24; Werner et al., Washington Post, 3/25; Feuer, CNBC, 3/24; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/25; Cochrane/Fandos, New York Times, 3/25; Cowan/Morgan, Reuters, 3/24; Jamerson/Duehren, Wall Street Journal, 3/25; Wire, Los Angeles Times, 3/24; Karni/McNeil, New York Times, 3/25; Samuels/Chalfant, The Hill, 3/24).

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