April 24, 2020

Cassidy’s Legislative Efforts to Combat the Coronavirus

WASHINGTON – As the United States continues to battle the coronavirus, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) has worked around the clock to help flatten the curve and assist in the economic recovery of the state of Louisiana in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis.

Cassidy has worked on a number of policy initiatives since before the epidemic began to ensure the safety of all Americans and provide critical support to those suffering from the impacts of coronavirus – both physically and financially. 

Securing Coronavirus Relief Funding

Cassidy voted along with the entire U.S. Senate in favor of a roughly $480 billion bill to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to provide funding resources to small businesses so they can continue to pay employees and rent. 

Cassidy achieved a number of legislative priorities in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which passed the Senate on March 25 and was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The CARES Act provided $2 trillion in emergency assistance for American families and businesses and gave $1,200 direct payments to individuals who earn less than $75,000 annually and $500 per dependent. Cassidy’s priorities included:

  • $500 million to create a system the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can use to track coronavirus outbreak in communities across the country.
  • $300 million for fishery assistance, which is needed for shrimp and oyster producers who aren’t able to sell their products to restaurants, for charter fishery operators and other fishery-related entities that have sustained economic revenue losses due to coronavirus.
  • The Rapid Coverage for Coronavirus Vaccines Act to require private health insurance plans to cover coronavirus vaccines and treatments.
  • Expanded patients’ access and Medicare coverage for telehealth services from federally-qualified health centers and rural health clinics during the coronavirus outbreak.
  • The Good Samaritan Health Professionals Act to limit liability for health care professionals who volunteer to provide health care services in response to the pandemic.
  • A provision for student loan flexibility that allows for students to drop college courses during the outbreak without having to repay federal financial aid, including Pell grants and student loans.
  • Allowing foreign institutions to offer distance learning for the roughly 30,000 American students studying overseas during the pandemic.                    

Cassidy and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) announced they are introducing the bipartisan State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund, which would create a $500 billion fund to help states and local governments respond to the current public health and economic crisis while maintaining essential services. The funds would be delivered in three equal tranches based on population size, number of COVID-19 cases and state revenue losses relative to pre-coronavirus projections.

President Trump picked Cassidy to serve on a task force dedicated to counseling the president on how best to re-open the economy once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Cassidy announced his intention to introduce legislation that would impose tariffs on oil imports from Saudi Arabia and withdraw American troops from the country in response to Saudi Arabia’s manipulation of the oil market that is threatening American energy jobs amid the pandemic.

Cassidy secured $83.8 million for Louisiana’s major passenger airports through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program to address operational costs and other business expenses to cover losses due to the decline in revenues from the outbreak.

Cassidy announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded more than $30 million in federal funding to Louisiana health care facilities to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The grant funds were part of the CARES Act and dispersed to 34 facilities in 40 parishes across the state.

Cassidy announced that the federal government would completely fund the Louisiana National Guard’s efforts to combat coronavirus. About 1,200 guardsmen are assisting with disaster response across Louisiana.

Cassidy voted for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed the Senate 90 to 8 and was signed into law by President Trump on March 18. The law provides for paid sick and family leave, free coronavirus testing, and increased benefits for SNAP and Medicaid patients.

Cassidy was one of the first U.S. senators to sound the alarm about coronavirus when he introduced the bipartisan Public Health Emergency Response and Accountability Act to create a permanent fund to enable quick and effective responses to future public health emergencies. The U.S. has faced past public health emergencies such as Zika, Ebola, and now the coronavirus, but this current outbreak won’t be the last. Implementing a permanent strategy for federal response agencies to respond proactively will allow the U.S. to get out in front of future pandemics before they spread or grow out of control. 

Cassidy and Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) released bipartisan principles in a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to support students with disabilities to ensure they receive full and equitable educational services during the pandemic.

Cassidy led a bipartisan letter with Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) encouraging HHS and the CDC to build on the agencies’ existing reportable disease framework to trace novel coronavirus infections to determine and track who has developed antibodies to COVID-19 and discover who may be immune.

Cassidy signed onto a bipartisan letter with 21 other senators urging U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to work with the hard-hit cotton industry to craft policies that will aid each segment of the industry.

Cassidy led a bipartisan letter calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to relax interest rates for health care providers who have sought financial assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic through Medicare’s Accelerated and Advance Payments Program.

Cassidy signed onto a bipartisan letter with 31 other senators to USDA Secretary Perdue urging the Trump administration to ensure the continuity of U.S. food supply and support rural areas during the outbreak by providing relief to farmers.

He also signed onto a bipartisan letter encouraging HHS Secretary Alex Azar and CMS Administrator Seema Verma to consider solutions to protect Medicare beneficiaries from high-risk settings and to ensure safe access to care.

Cassidy advocated for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for first responders by signing onto a bipartisan letter to President Trump.

Cassidy has worked behind the scenes to secure reimbursement to ambulance services for transporting patients to non-hospital settings.

Cassidy has worked to expand telehealth access. Emergency room services provided by telehealth are now billable by Medicare, and issues regarding telehealth and HIPAA rules have been resolved.

Cassidy has help facilitate NK95 mask guidance and advocated for laboratory waivers for LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine and other testing machines.

Making Coronavirus Drugs Affordable

Cassidy and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wrote an op-ed in the Daily Caller calling for affordable prescription drugs to treat Americans suffering from coronavirus and why their bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act must be passed to help vulnerable Americans.

Cassidy delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on March 5 urging his colleagues to pass the Make Coronavirus Drugs Affordable Act (also known as Grassley-Wyden) that would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs so that they can better afford life-saving medicine to diseases such as coronavirus. Current law states that seniors on Medicare Part D must pay 5 percent of their drugs’ costs out-of-pocket, regardless of expenses. Seniors are most at risk of suffering complications from coronavirus, emphasizing the need to pass this legislation in case coronavirus treatments became too expensive. He also participated in a colloquy on the Senate floor on March 11 on the legislation with Sens. Grassley, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Steve Daines (R-MT).

Cassidy introduced bipartisan legislation with Sens. Daines, Doug Jones (D-AL), and Tina Smith (D-MN) that would require private health insurance plans to cover treatments or vaccines for coronavirus with no cost sharing. The Rapid Coverage for Coronavirus Vaccines Act would require private insurance plans to cover any coronavirus treatment or vaccine that gets an A or B rating by the USPSTF or is recommended by ACIP no later than 15 business days after the recommendation to ensure Americans receive timely coverage.

Cassidy and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a letter with 32 other bipartisan senators letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) asking the agency to modify payment recoupment timelines and cut interest rates on uncovered balance repayments for those using the Medicare Accelerated Payment Program. The Trump administration has committed to making these changes in future coronavirus relief bills. 

Cassidy and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-IL) authored a letter calling for increased patient access to affordable drugs at compounding pharmacies. The Food and Drug Administration is acting upon their request.

Recommending Coronavirus Prevention Techniques

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Cassidy has urged people to heed warnings and practice coronavirus prevention measures offered by the CDC as well as state and local officials. Cassidy recorded several videos demonstrating how preventive techniques such as sneezing into sleeves, washing hands frequently, carrying hand sanitizer and practicing social distancing can significantly mitigate the spread of coronavirus and lower chances of contracting the disease.

Cassidy has continuously updated his Facebook and Twitter pages with prevention messages and hasdedicated a page on his website specifically toward helping his constituents stay informed with fresh information regarding the coronavirus.

Cassidy donated plasma at the LifeShare Blood Center in Baton Rouge to bring awareness to a coronavirus treatment where patients who have recovered from COVID-19 donate their plasma, which contains antibodies to coronavirus, to patients currently battling the disease.

Cassidy has also written twice in the Wall Street Journal about the necessity of combining social distancing measures with coronavirus immunity documentation in the form of immunity registries similar to those systems currently used to track immunizations.