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Hospitals Can’t Charge Uninsured Patients Treated for Virus: Azar (1)

April 4, 2020, 12:10 AMUpdated: April 4, 2020, 1:43 AM

Hospitals and health-care providers that accept federal money provided through the $2 trillion coronavirus spending package aren’t allowed to bill uninsured patients treated for Covid-19, HHS leader Alex Azar said Friday.

The providers will be reimbursed at Medicare rates, Azar said, which will be carved out of a $100 billion slice of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.

When probed about re-opening enrollment for Affordable Care Act plans or potentially expanding Medicaid, Azar demurred. People who have recently lost their employer-provided health insurance can enroll through the ACA’s exchanges under the law’s special enrollment rules, said Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services. He made the comments at a White House briefing.

Critics have said the complexity of that process dissuades people from using it. They had urged the administration to reopen Obamacare enrollment instead of making people use the special enrollment process. Enrollment typically occurs for several weeks near the end of each calendar year.

The American Hospital Association issued a statement Friday from its president and CEO, Rick Pollack, encouraging the administration “to look at various options” for addressing the problem of treating uninsured Covid-19 patients. His list mentioned: opening up a special ACA enrollment period, expanding Medicaid, and “using the National Disaster Medical System or other federal emergency programs.”

He also said CARES Act funding should be released “as soon as possible.”

“Given that virtually all regular operations have come to a halt—such as elective or scheduled procedures—there are limited revenues coming in, causing major cash flow concerns that threaten the viability of hospitals,” Pollack’s statement said.

President Donald Trump also announced Friday that Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers agreed to waive cost-sharing for Covid-19 treatment for their customers, matching promises from other insurers, like Aetna.

(Updated in paragraphs five through seven with statement from the American Hospital Association.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee in Washington at jlee1@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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