The $3.5 trillion “human” infrastructure package currently in discussion in Congress aims to address health care, education, and tax policies, as well as various other issues. Democrats plan to pass this bill using a process called “budget reconciliation” that will allow them to approve it with only Democratic votes.
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This package has strong implications for organizations like the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), which will likely support numerous health care provisions to directly benefit hospitals as part of the package.
Jacqueline Barton True, vice president of rural health programs at the WSHA, said the association hopes this human infrastructure package will address health care issues that were not addressed in the “hard” bipartisan infrastructure bill in August.
In addition to extending premium subsidy increases and expanding Medicare benefits to include dental, vision and hearing services, WSHA says one of their main priorities is workforce development.
Barton True explained how a workforce development initiative is top of mind for the WSHA, as labor shortages in health care have been especially prominent in the state due to recent surges in COVID-19 cases.
“We are in the midst of both an acute short term crisis in terms of workforce as we’re trying to respond to this new surge, as well as a long term. We’ve been having shortages for a long time, and they’re only getting exacerbated. We know more and more people are leaving health care, because it’s a tough job and this surge is really brutal, and so we’re looking for support in a variety of ways.”
Barton True stated that the ways to tackle the workforce crisis includes more support for nurses and nurse educators, an increase in residency slots available to improve the doctor pipeline, and support for specific programs like Conrad 30, a Visa program that lets foreign medical students practice in the U.S. after they have completed their education.
The WSHA has also noted the importance of the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) payments. According to the WSHA, these payments have been essential to withstanding the loss of revenue resulting from stopping non-essential procedures in hospitals, and dealing with the additional costs of preparing for COVID patients.
Telehealth is yet another priority for WSHA in the human infrastructure package; WSHA specifically supports removing coverage restrictions on the location of the patient and provider. WSHA also supports preserving access to telehealth services in critical access hospitals and rural health clinics, and preserving access to telehealth for mental and behavioral health services as well.
Barton True says it’s important for hospital workers and health care providers to testify to members of the congressional delegation throughout discussions of the bill. WSHA states that “it is likely to be the main vehicle for health care legislation in the months ahead”.
“The work that our caregivers and our hospitals are doing right now is really heroic – this surge is unlike anything we’ve seen, and our caregivers are tired, and we’ve been at this a long time. So we want [Congress] to understand just how vital these folks are to the communities that they serve.
Congress has an ability to help, both in really tangible ways like investing in future workforce and infrastructure pieces, but also in messaging. Certain members of this congressional delegation carry a lot of weight with their own communities, and so saying things like ‘please get vaccinated, please wear a mask’ are ways that they can support and say thank you to those caregivers, and keep people out of the hospital, so we can get through the surge.”