With news telecasts and the internet supplying a constant barrage of disheartening updates around the continued spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), North Carolinians have clung to whatever positivity they can find. With the passing of a bill titled The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Americans everywhere took a sigh of relief for the first time in weeks.

In green-lighting the bill, lawmakers earmarked $330 billion in funding to “address the needs of the American people as we confront the coronavirus pandemic.” Officially labeled “S. 3548,” but conversationally referred to as “CARES” because of its lengthy title and catchy acronym, the bill contains many layers.

While we’d encourage you to spend time reading it in its entirety to understand the breadth of what it proposes, we wanted to focus today on some of the ways the bill will directly impact healthcare.

CARES allocates $172.1 billion to ensure those on the front lines have the necessary resources to “prepare for, prevent and respond to the crisis…” Within that budget, the bill specifies funds for the following:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – In support of federal, state, and local public health agencies, $4.3 billion will be used to purchase personal protective equipment, conduct laboratory testing, mitigate the infection at the local level, and other preparedness activities.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The NIH will receive a total of $945 million to expand on its research and development of diagnosing the virus and countermeasures for various stages of infection.

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response – Of the $127 billion that the bill designates for medical response records, $100 billion will be used to programmatically provide grants to hospitals, public entities, not-for-profits, and Medicare and Medicaid-enrolled suppliers and institutional providers. According to the Committee on Appropriations, these funds are to cover unreimbursed healthcare-related expenses or lost revenues resulting from the coronavirus.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) – Among other line items, some $185 million will support rural critical access hospitals, rural tribal health and telehealth programs, and poison control centers. As we’ve written about before, rising costs have threatened the viability of rural hospitals, so we’re pleased to see this type of aid included.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) – With the pandemic affecting all of us in more ways than one, maintaining good mental health is crucial to our overall health. The bill provides $425 million to increase access to mental health services with the help of Community Behavioral Health Clinics, suicide prevention programs, and emergency response spending for populations like the homeless that need it the most.

Support for pharmaceutical manufacturing – There are several components of the bill related to the manufacturing or testing of pharmaceuticals aimed at curbing the virus. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals will receive $10 million for the development and manufacturing of supplies. Additionally, $415 million will go to testing vaccines and antiviral drugs developed by military medical research programs. And more than $27 billion is being funneled to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for continued research and development of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics to treat the effects of the virus.

Hospital Preparedness Program – A minimum of $250 million will head to the Hospital Preparedness Program, which includes the National Ebola and Special Pathogens Training and Education Center (NETEC), various special pathogens treatment centers, and hospital preparedness cooperative agreements.

While there’s no way to know how long COVID-19 will rage on, or what the aftermath holds for North Carolina, the Coalition pledges to keep you updated with information that’s important to you as we get it.

Have the sky-high costs of healthcare in our state impacted you and/or your family’s lives? Do you want to do something about it? Join the Coalition now to receive updates about new legislation and policies that will affect YOUR healthcare. Sign up now!

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