As many of you know, several state and local governments are currently considering shelter-in-place orders to prevent the spread of coronavirus among their populations; some governments have already issued such orders. As Minnesota continues to develop their own approach to this challenging issue, we are respectfully requesting officials include appropriate exemptions for employees of healthcare entities if they initiate shelter in place protocols. The significance of the health technology and care industry here extends far beyond our borders — its size and scope make it a key factor in the manufacturing and distribution of medical supplies around the world. These supplies will be critical during and after this pandemic, for treating not only COVID-19, but other health issues that will continue to arise.
Please see the attached letter, which recognizes that Medical Alley members are carrying out essential healthcare operations, including the section we are using when corresponding with governmental authorities.
For purposes of this Order, individuals may leave their residence to work for or obtain services at any “Healthcare Operations” including hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacies, companies and institutions involved in the research and development, manufacture, distribution, warehousing, and supplying of pharmaceuticals, biotechnology therapies, consumer health products, medical devices, diagnostics, equipment, services and any other healthcare related supplies or services. This shall be broadly construed to include all other activities, supplies, and services required to maintain supply chain operations without disruption. “Healthcare Operations” does not include fitness and exercise gyms and similar facilities.
Last week, the Medical Alley Association asked the Governor’s office to request an emergency disaster designation from the Small Business Administration (SBA) that would make special loans available to qualifying businesses across Minnesota. We have heard from many of you how the COVID-19 is impacting your ability to make payroll or rent and remain an operating business. Our request was received positively, and we will communicate further information on how to engage in the programs as soon as we get it.
The Minnesota Legislature unanimously passed a $200 million emergency COVID-19 funding package in a predawn vote Tuesday morning.
The bill contains a $50 million infusion into a healthcare contingency account for rapid-moving grants to help “flatten the curve.” The additional $150 million is for grants, administered by the Minnesota Department of Health, to eligible healthcare providers to respond to the outbreak. Healthcare provider is broadly defined to include hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, nursing facilities, healthcare facilities, ambulance services, and “settings where assisted living services or healthcare services are or may be provided.”
There are a few conditions to these grants, the most notable of which is that grantees cannot bill uninsured patients that seek care for COVID-19. The bill also does not currently allow the grants to be used for equipment that can be built into regular operations and recaptured after the pandemic subsides. Earlier versions of the House bill included loans that could be used to purchase durable equipment that would remain with the hospitals after the end of the crisis, but the loan fund was removed during negotiations. There will be a legislative advisory commission to oversee the grants.
A provision that was included in the final bill was an expansion of the use of telemedicine, which is designed to help keep potentially vulnerable patients out of clinics during the pandemic. The Medical Alley community has a strong telemedicine sector that is already using their platforms to fight this pandemic by helping hospitals address a potential shortage of bed space by accommodating patients who are well enough to receive care from home.
Last week, the Legislature passed an initial $21 million to boost the health contingency account. The Medical Alley Association supports the passage of these two COVID-19 response bills. These funds will enable Minnesota’s world-class healthcare providers to continue bringing the best in medical technology and the highest possible standard of care to the patients that need them most. Medical Alley will continue to work closely with our members and elected officials to ensure Minnesota remains well positioned to tackle this pandemic.
This bill was the state legislature’s final act before heading into a month-long, pandemic-related recess. The Legislature is effectively in recess until April 14 unless the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader agree to meet earlier. Both the Senate and House Majority Leaders suggested the legislature will meet at least once before April 14 to address urgent matters. The legislative leaders agreed they will limit their activities over the recess to work that falls into three major categories:
To date, five bills have made it across the finish line, while several partisan bills are left in limbo during the recess. Next week, we will provide an overview of the 2020 legislative session to date, what happened before the recess, and how COVID-19 changes the tone moving forward.
Since Friday, March 14, Governor Walz signed a series of executive orders in response to the pandemic. On Sunday, Walz declared a state of peacetime emergency and ordered all public school districts and charter schools to close by Wednesday, March 18.
Monday saw the Governor order all Minnesota bars and restaurants to close temporarily for dine-in service starting March 17 as the number of COVID-19 cases in the state rose to more than 50. The Governor also announced an additional executive order to strengthen Minnesota’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to ensure affected establishments have benefits available for workers. In a Wednesday press conference, DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said 50,000 Minnesotans filed for unemployment this week; the number has since risen above 72,000.
Minnesota businesses affected by COVID-19-related closures will also get a sales tax reprieve until April 20. Taxpayers, including individuals and businesses will be able to delay paying federal tax bills for 90 days. As of now, taxes or extension applications still need to be filed by April 15.
CMS announced that it will expand telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries and cut back on HIPAA enforcement.
This change will let patients at a higher risk from the disease receive care at home. Prior to the changes, Medicare would only pay for telehealth visits when the patient was in a rural area or if they went to a clinic, hospital, or another medical facility to receive care. Now, Medicare will cover in-home visits for patients in any location. The change is now in effect, and Medicare will pay for visits the same way it would an in-person appointment.
The federal agency said it would waive HIPAA penalties for healthcare providers that use everyday technologies, so long as they are used to “serve patients in good faith.” A broader range of providers will also be able to deliver telehealth services, including doctors, nurse practitioners and clinical psychologists.
On March 13, the federal House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, focused on supporting the response to COVID-19. The bill includes a variety of provisions that are intended to support families affected by the virus and associated economic disruption, and to bolster our healthcare system’s ability to respond effectively. Wednesday night, the Senate passed the bill and President Trump signed the bill a few hours later.
The act contains leave provisions applicable to private employers with fewer than 500 employees and some governmental employers. It provides up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for immediate use regardless of length of employment it the employee cannot work (or telework) because they have symptoms of COVID-19, have been told by a health care provider to quarantine, or are caring for a child whose child care is disrupted by COVID-19.
With concerns about a shortage of ventilators and masks, President Trump announced plans to invoke his emergency authority through the Defense Production Act to marshal industry to fight the coronavirus and to speed up production of such medical equipment. Specifics of this plan are still forthcoming.
This is a global crisis unlike anything we have seen in a generation, yet Medical Alley companies have stepped up and are leading in their respective arenas to help solve this pandemic. On behalf of the patients you serve around the world, thank you for all you do!