In the early hours of Tuesday, Minnesota's lawmakers passed a bill providing $200 million in emergency aid to help the state's healthcare system cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill passed with unanimous votes in the House and Senate at around 3 a.m., and will provide $150 million for the Minnesota Department of Health to create grants for healthcare providers responding to COVID-19.
The money can be used for reasons including creating temporary sites for testing and treatment, more beds, covering staff overtime and hiring costs, buying more protective equipment and cleaning supplies, emergency transportation, temporary IT systems, and developing screening and testing procedures.
A further $50 million will be placed into a public health contingency account that can be used by hospitals, nursing facilities, and clinics.
The funding is designed to help hospitals and clinics cope in the event the pandemic spreads as quickly and severely as seen in other countries such as Italy, where health facilities have been overwhelmed by the number of serious cases.
It comes as Minnesota has taken early steps to slow the spread of the virus – including closing schools and bars and restaurants – in order to "flatten the curve" so that the virus passes through the popular at a more manageable rate for health providers.
"While each of us is working as hard as we can to decrease the risk of transmission, we must ensure our health care providers have the resources they need to take care of Minnesotans who may be afflicted with COVID-19," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
"These investments are critical to addressing this pandemic and making sure Minnesotans who get sick get the care they need."
Health providers in receipt of any grant funding from the pot must agree not to bill uninsured patients for the cost of COVID-19 screening, testing or treatment, and if a patient is out-of-network, they must accept the "median network rate as payment in full."
Health insurers have been waiving the costs of COVID-19 tests and office visits, but may still charge those with insurance coverage for any associated treatment.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt also noted that any unspent money from the healthcare fund will be automatically returned to the general fund, and there will also be consequences for unauthorized spending of grant money.
"This bill ensures Minnesota's entire public and private health care infrastructure is fully prepared to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt.
"Legislators will continue to monitor the situation and Minnesotans can rest assured that state leaders will respond as we always do in emergency situations."