HEALS Act: New Coronavirus Relief Bill May Include Changes to Medicare

Published July 29, 2020

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Republican members of the U.S. Senate a stimulus package designed to provide relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed bill is called the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act, and there are certain Medicare provisions that may make it into a finalized version of the bill.

The HEALS Act is the Senate Republicans’ Phase 4 economic relief proposal, following the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was passed in late March.

Many Medicare beneficiaries — people who are older or have certain disabilities or health conditions — remain among the most vulnerable to severe infection and death due to COVID-19. The HEALS Act contains several adjustments to federal Medicare coverage that are designed to help beneficiaries during the pandemic.

Freeze 2021 Medicare Part B premiums to 2020 levels

The HEALS Act would freeze the premium amounts for Medicare Part B in 2021 at the current 2020 levels. Beneficiaries would pay a surcharge of around $3 per month for a few months in 2021, until the budget shortfall due to the 2021 premium freeze is recouped.

Under the HEALS Act, Medicare beneficiaries would be protected from a spike in Part B premiums in 2021 due partly to negative pandemic-related economic impacts to Medicare funding.

The standard Part B premium typically increases each year, based on calculated budgetary changes. From 2019 to 2020, the premium increased nearly 7%, from $135.50 in 2019 to $144.60 per month in 2020, though some beneficiaries may pay less. Some higher-income beneficiaries pay higher monthly premiums.

More time for hospitals to repay Medicare loans

Hospitals and physician groups around the nation received loans from Medicare to remain open and operating despite intense financial strain during the pandemic. The HEALS Act would give these groups more time before they have to start repaying those loans.

The HEALS Act would give hospitals and physician groups until January 1 to begin repaying the loans.

Extension of telehealth coverage

The HEALS Act would give the Department of Health and Human Services authority to extend telemedicine and telehealth benefits through the end of the year. For some qualified rural clinics and health centers, telehealth coverage may be extended for five additional years after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

Medicare Part B has expanded its coverage of telemedicine services during the pandemic, and some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan carriers such as Humana, Aetna and Anthem offer telemedicine services such as virtual doctor’s office visits by video or telephone.

Learn more about Medicare telehalth coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats will work to negotiate new bill contents

House Democrats previously released their own version of a similar bill, the HEROES Act, that includes the elimination of waiting periods for Medicare enrollment, increasing funding for Medicare beneficiaries who are also enrolled in Medicare and boosting awareness of how Medicare works with COBRA. None of the above were included in the HEALS Act. 

The HEALS Act includes another round of stimulus checks and $200 per week in additional unemployment funding to replace the current $600 per week extra stipend. The goal is to pass the HEALS Act before Congress goes on summer break from Aug. 8 to Sept. 8.