Last month, Congress passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, a bill totaling $1.9 trillion in relief funds and many are wondering what positive impacts may be seen in healthcare. This most recent bill differs from the two previous COVID-relief packages signed. This funding package does not directly make the healthcare industry the primary beneficiary, instead, funnels money into other areas of society, attempting to ease the economic distress caused by COVID-19. Examples include expansion of the child tax credit and additional funding to states, local governments, territories, and tribal governments, and schools.
That being said, the healthcare industry will still see a direct, positive impact from this legislation. At the heart of this pandemic, healthcare institutions have been tested from a variety of angles. Issues like resource availability, information communication, and general revenue-building have been strained. As the novel coronavirus has changed everyday health and social norms, healthcare providers are still trying to navigate ways in which to best protect their communities while also ensuring they receive the routine and acute care that is necessary.
With every COVID relief package that is passed, new opportunities and resources become available to both healthcare providers and patients, helping better accelerate healthcare outcomes. Here are three ways the latest stimulus bill could affect healthcare institutions.
The American Rescue Plan Act gave qualifying individuals $1,400 for personal use. Additionally, $300 weekly unemployment insurance has been extended through September 6 and provides full coverage of COBRA insurance premiums through the September month.
This influx of available money is sure to reach healthcare providers, as many individuals are delaying specific medical care due to a lack of funds. With more cash on hand, it is fair to assume doctor visits will increase, especially as vaccine rollouts continue. Not only that, many Americans are sitting on unpaid or pending medical expenses that need to be settled. Healthcare institutions can predict to see more medical bills paid in part or full, as this extra capital hits bank accounts.
Healthcare provider groups lobbied Congress as they negotiated the $1.9 trillion bill. They pushed hard for three main inductions in the bill:
• An additional $35 billion for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF)
• Extend the moratorium on the 2 percent Medicare payment cuts set to expire on March 31
• Delay the looming 4 percent Medicare cuts called for under the PAYGO rules
The relief package does not include any of these asks. However, in the short-term, thanks to the previous COVID relief package, the Cares Act, most hospitals and other healthcare institutions are remaining in the black. The direct funding from the Cares Act provided immediate financial help via grants and loans to those institutions in the most need. With billions of dollars still remaining in the PRF, legislators decided against allocating more money into this fund, opting to push it into various other sectors.
Yet, looking further into 2021 and beyond, healthcare institutions will need to be conscious of returning to patient volumes of pre-pandemic times. If hospital beds once again fill up with COVID patients, revenue sources could quickly become scarce, as a run on PRF money could leave many institutions struggling. In addition, the 4 percent Medicare cuts under PAYGO rules lessen provider reimbursement — further exacerbating the need for institutions to focus on having an “income possible” patient volume.
This relief package signed in a temporary two-year expansion of the Affordable Care Act, addressing some affordability issues facing the program. Now, individuals with annual incomes over 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) can qualify for subsidies to offset the cost of purchasing coverage on the ACA’s exchanges. This allows individuals falling into this group to have their premium costs be capped at 8.5 percent of their incomes for two years. The bill also fully subsidizes coverage for people with annual incomes up to 150% FPL for two years.
Additionally, the legislation incentivizes states that have not expanded their Medicaid coverage under the ACA to do so with a 5 percent FMAP bump for the states’ non-expansion population. This would lead to more individuals being seen by doctors, and help providers reduce their care rate of the uninsured.
As a provider, there are several pain points you experience on a daily basis. In the current climate, these issues are only amplified by COVID. Problems centering around patient communication often are bottlenecks for providers delivering the necessary care to their communities. As the impact of this most recent COVID-relief bill begins to hit the healthcare industry, a low-maintenance, convenient solution does exist to help best prepare for the effects — healthcare chatbots.
Chatbot technology like Quincy is specifically designed for the provider-patient relationship. The platform is able to handle a variety of tasks and a near-limitless workload, all enhancing the provider possibilities, increasing patient satisfaction and safety, and helping boost profit margins. Now doctors, nurses, and related staff have more time to focus on bigger tasks, not related to more nuanced communication needs.
Here are a few ways a chatbot can help in the COVID-era:
Patient self-scheduling is a necessary part of the healthcare experience in today’s climate. When patients can schedule their own appointments on their own time, this improves their overall experience. There is no need to call or email, and wait for a response. Appointment times can quickly be seen, selected, and confirmed — all with a couple of clicks.
In specific relation to COVID, vaccine doses are becoming more readily available to larger portions of the population. Handling inquiries and appointments for vaccine administration is a tall task. Bots like Quincy are equipped to help with this process — ensuring that patients can get an appointment scheduled when times become available, and deliver all necessary information to them.
In an effort to social distance and protect patients, most healthcare institutions and providers are limiting how many individuals may be inside at a time. Instead of walking to the front door, or calling the front desk, chatbots are able to make curbside check-in simple and hassle-free. When a patient arrives, they can notify the bot of their arrival and the corresponding healthcare team member will be notified. This saves time and helps best ensure the health and safety of all parties involved.
Telehealth appointments are another critical component of healthcare services right now — and are predicted to remain that way post-pandemic. With a chatbot platform, providers now have a dedicated way to help manage their virtual appointments and care of patients. Chatbots can remind patients of an upcoming visit, send links to join the virtual patient room, follow up with doctor notes and recommendations, and more. This technology helps reduce provider time spent on paperwork, allowing for more face-to-face interaction with patients.
Secure communication is at the core of everything we do here at QliqSOFT. Our secure chatbot, Quincy, combines artificial intelligence and live-agent interaction to provide modern healthcare solutions for both patients and providers. If your organization is looking to take a leap into the future of clinical care, contact us today.
A lifelong communicator, this Tennessee native got his start in broadcast news before branching out into public media, corporate, communications, digital advertising, and integrated marketing. Prior to joining QliqSOFT as the company's first marketing team member, Ben shared his talents with organizations that include the University of Alabama, iHeartMedia, and The Kroger Company.
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