Pa.’s Casey, Scanlon call for fairer distribution of COVID-19 relief fund money

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: The U.S. Capitol is shown at dusk.(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers accused the Trump administration of playing favorites in doling out $2 trillion in federal aid authorized by the recent COVID-19 bailout bill, by distributing money according to 2019 Medicare revenues.

In a conference call with journalists Wednesday, U.S. Sen, Bob Casey, D-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, said the White House needed to give money to “states like Pennsylvania that are experiencing a significant outbreak of the virus.”

Of the $100 billion allocated in the bill for hospitals and other healthcare providers, $30 billion has been released. 

The $30 billion is being distributed to states based on their past Medicare revenues, not how many coronavirus patients the states have treated. 

This means that states with more expansive Medicare coverage — such as New York and Pennsylvania — are receiving less money from the Mar. 27 bill than states with less coverage, despite the fact that many of the aforementioned states have been more affected by the virus thus far.

Last week, Pennsylvania’s other U.S. senator, Republican Pat Toomey, said state hospitals and healthcare centers would receive $1.25 billion in the first wave of CARES Act assistance. 

One estimate by Kaiser Health News estimated that: “States such as Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana, which the pandemic has touched relatively lightly, are getting more than $300,000 per reported COVID-19 case in the $30 billion,” while “New York, the worst-hit state, would receive only $12,000 per case.”

In an April 10 letter addressed to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.,  and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,  a bipartisan group of House members charged that “federal aid has not been allocated proportionately to the impact of the virus.”

Instead of its current actions, “One of the best things the administration could do — which they flatly refuse to do — is to have an open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act to allow more people to get healthcare, and they should allow Medicaid to be used, so that anyone in the country who has a COVID-19 diagnosis can get the treatment that they need for [no cost],” Casey said. 

Casey and Scanlon spoke alongside two healthcare advocates: Brad Woodhouse, the executive director of Protect Our Care Brad Woodhouse, and Barry Freedman, the CEO of Einstein Healthcare Network. 

The lawmakers and advocates say politics should  be put aside to provide necessary resources to healthcare workers and institutions during the current health crisis.

Hospitals in Pennsylvania need help, Freedman said, using Philadelphia as an example.

“We’ve seen over the past few years recent hospital closures, so that … there’s not sufficient capacity, let alone what’s happening with COVID-19,” Freedman said, speaking on behalf of high public payer dependent institutions in Pennsylvania and around the U.S.

“We believe that it’s critical for us to have a financial stabilization approach that will help our cash flow,” Freedman added. “That should be through a combination of periodic interim payments, expedited payments, waiver and release on the upper payment limits, and working capital loans.”

The reason this is not happening already, Scanlon said, is because the administration and majority party have a deep ideological focus on corporations, not communities and people. 

The actions of Republican lawmakers seem “so senseless and so completely opposite to what we need to do for our communities and for our health care system,” Scanlon continued. 

In Pennsylvania, hospitals are expecting a loss of close to $1.5 billion a month over the three month period, Freedman told the Capital-Star. He did not elaborate on what months were included in this period.

More than 700,000 Pennsylvanians have healthcare coverage thanks to the Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act expansion actions taken by Gov. Wolf, Casey said. “Yet you expand medicaid and it seems like you’re punished by the administration,” Casey continued.

Along with asking for resources, the lawmakers and public health advocates are asking for their voice to be heard in the majority as consecutive versions of the CARES Act are brought to a vote. 

“It should not be a choice between the health of the residents of the commonwealth and the economy,” Scanlon said. “I think we do just as much, if not more, harm to the economy if we ignore the health of our constituents.”

“It’s time for the administration to stop playing games with those dollars, and to get the dollars where they are needed,” regardless of how state politics align with that of the administration, Casey said. 

Correspondent Hannah McDonald covers Erie and northwestern Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star.