The new $900 billion stimulus package was signed into law last week in order to address the continued health and economic fallout of the COVID pandemic. The relief measure includes a one-time $600 payment per eligible adult and child, but those $600 payments are not the only provision seniors should know about. The coronavirus relief package was included as a part of a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, which also contained changes to key senior programs. Here are some of the legislation’s most important provisions for older Americans.

$600 Stimulus Checks
The stimulus package authorizes a one-time $600 relief payment for eligible adults and children. Income cut-offs are $75,000 for individual taxpayers, and $150,000 for couples, with smaller payments authorized for taxpayers whose income falls just above the cut-off point. As was the case this spring, Social Security recipients, railroad retirees, and those receiving federal veterans’ benefits should expect to get their payment automatically, whether or not they filed a tax return. Like in the Spring of 2020, the stimulus checks should be exempt as income for Medicaid eligibility. If the senior is a nursing home resident and on Medicaid, the nursing home should not retain the $600 as it is the resident’s funds.

Fewer Surprise Medical Bills
When a patient is incapacitated or is receiving emergency-room care, they usually are not in a position to choose which doctor will treat them, and surprise bills from out-of-network providers at in-network hospitals can top $100,000. A provision in the stimulus bill, which will take effect in 2022, will require health care providers to settle on a fair price in those situations. Some of the practices covered by the legislation were already banned when providers billed Medicare, so the surprise billing provisions will make the biggest difference for older adults with private insurance.

Medicare Turns to Physicians Assistants
A provision called the Physician Assistant Direct Payment Act will now allow Medicare to directly reimburse physician assistants who provide medical care to older adults, instead of needing to reimburse a supervising physician or employer. In theory, giving physician assistants more autonomy will make it easier for seniors, especially those living in rural areas, to find medical care.

$25 Billion In Rental Assistance, and Eviction Moratorium Extended to January 31st
The relief bill allocates $25 billion for state and local governments to distribute as assistance to households struggling with rent, and extends the federal moratorium on evictions until January 31. However, the eviction moratorium may not be enough to keep low-income seniors in their homes. Not every renter knows about the protection, and some landlords and sheriffs have defied the federal order.
To be eligible for protection under the federal moratorium, tenants must sign an affidavit saying that they have done what they can to pay their rent on time, including making partial payments if possible, and present their affidavit to the judge presiding over their eviction case.

Larger Food Stamp Payments
The stimulus bill will increase the size of SNAP payments, referred to as “food stamps,” by 15% for six months beginning on January 1, 2021. Prior to the increase, typical SNAP payments for seniors were roughly $105 per month. The increase in SNAP payments should be particularly welcome news for the seniors who are using their federal food assistance to order their groceries online.

What Was Not Included
State and local governments are expected to face major budget shortfalls in 2021 due to COVID-related issues. As a result, it would have been very helpful for the December stimulus bill to include money to help state and local governments bolster their budgets. This assistance was ultimately excluded.

Low-income seniors could suffer if states make up their budget short-falls by cutting Medicaid benefit programs, such as dental or vision benefits.

The final bill also stripped out a $1.8 billion package included in a previous draft that would reduce COVID risks for seniors living in nursing homes and other congregate settings. The funding package from the previous draft of the bill would have been used in part by nursing homes to “secure adequate staffing through the provision of workforce supports, such as premium or hazard pay, overtime pay, enhanced payment rates, paid sick leave, paid family leave, paid medical leave, paid quarantine leave, childcare, travel expenses, and temporary housing.”

Additionally, the funding package would have also been available to help seniors currently living in long-term care facilities safely transition back into living in their own homes.

Please feel free to contact Rothkoff Law Group if you have any questions about the impact of the new stimulus package on yourself or a loved one.