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What the COVID-19 Relief Package Means for Health and Health Care

The $1.9 trillion measure cleared by Congress includes funding for testing and vaccine initiatives and aims to expand the reach of the Affordable Care Act.

THE $1.9 TRILLION COVID-19 relief package cleared by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden will provide Americans with $1,400 stimulus payments but also includes a raft of health- and health care-related provisions.

The package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, passed after Democrats were forced to abandon an attempt to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and amid back-and-forth in the party over an increase to federal unemployment benefits. Yet provisions that would provide funding to support COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts, as well as expand premium tax credits to more people purchasing health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, easily made it through both the House and Senate.


Here's a look at some key provisions on health and health care contained in the measure.

Vaccines: The bill includes billions of dollars for COVID-19 efforts such as vaccine education and operating clinics and mobile units.

Under that umbrella, $7.5 billion will go to the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for activities such as promoting, distributing and monitoring vaccines. Another $1 billion will go to the CDC for vaccine awareness and engagement activities, while $600 million will go to the Indian Health Service for vaccine-related efforts. Another $500 million will go to the Food and Drug Administration to aid in activities such as development and surveillance of vaccines and therapeutics.

Currently, people on Medicaid do not have to pay for vaccines, and the measure seeks to ensure that the federal government will reimburse states for vaccinating Medicaid recipients at 100%.

Testing: The package provides some $50 billion to expand COVID-19 testing through efforts such as implementing a national testing strategy for contact tracing, surveillance and mitigation.

Another $500 million will go to the CDC to help track COVID-19 hot spots and emerging COVID-19 variants.



Workforce: The measure allocates approximately $7.6 billion to help public health departments and partners hire employees such as contract tracers, community health workers, nurses and lab personnel.

It also includes funds aimed at addressing health disparities that became apparent during the pandemic, including $7.6 billion to help community health centers and $250 million for states to establish nursing home "strike teams" that can deploy to such facilities and help them combat COVID-19.


Postpartum Medicaid coverage: The package slips in a Medicaid provision that passed the House last year and gives states the option to cover low-income women who just had babies under Medicaid for a year after giving birth.

Affordable Care Act and insurance: The package expands Affordable Care Act marketplace subsidies for two years, providing completely subsidized health insurance premiums for those making up to 150% of the federal poverty level. Those whose incomes are more than 400% above the federal poverty line can receive subsidies and will have to pay no more than 8.5% of their income on marketplace health insurance premiums. People receiving unemployment also will be able to use the premium tax credits for a period of time.

Until later this year, the package also completely subsidizes COBRA coverage premiums for workers who have been laid off. And it aims to incentivize the 12 remaining states who have not recently expanded Medicaid to do so by increasing the federal match they'd receive.

The measure also includes billions of dollars for behavioral and mental health, including $3 billion for substance use treatment block grants and mental health block grant programs.

Social determinants: The package also includes various provisions that tie into health and well-being. Among them are a temporary increase to the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child per year, and an extension of the 15% Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit increase through September.

Additionally, it provides approximately $20 billion for rental assistance and $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers. Affordable housing advocates have warned that without rental assistance, the pandemic may worsen.