On March 27, 2020, Congress responded to the COVID-19 emergency by adopting the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act), the most massive economic recovery legislation in United States history. A key focus of the CARES Act is the adoption of a variety of measures designed to expedite the approval and availability of drugs and devices needed to fight the pandemic, to shore up the financial positions of hospitals and other healthcare providers facing unprecedented demands, and to temporarily relax restrictions that may make it more difficult for patients to obtain access to needed testing and care. These measures include provisions that enhance access to telehealth services; provide expanded coverage for COVID-19-related services from Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance and managed care organizations; expedite review and approval of new potential treatments; defer certain scheduled Medicare cuts and provide add-on payments to hospitals for treatment of COVID-19 patients; and expand the authority of non-physician practitioners in some circumstances.
Many of these new measures are specifically limited to the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. However, a number of them also reflect reforms that providers, drug and device manufacturers, and other industry participants have sought for some time, and it will be interesting to see whether experience with those reforms during the crisis leads to permanent changes in the healthcare system.
The following is a summary of the major healthcare provisions of the CARES Act.