Calif. bill would give healthcare workers $7 billion in COVID-19 bonuses

A California bill could require clinics, skilled-nursing facilities and hospitals to give medical professionals $10,000 each as a form of “hero pay” for their diligence throughout the pandemic.

Service Employees International Union California is the main proponent of Assembly Bill 650, which was introduced in February by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Rolling Hills Estates). The bill would award hazard pay bonuses of $2,500 quarterly in 2022 to healthcare workers who qualify. Smaller amounts would be given to part-time workers.

Healthcare providers with fewer than 100 employees would be exempt from the bill, and employees who already received bonuses could have them subtracted from their cash awards.

While supporters of the bill believe it could stave off burnout, its opponents argue that the financial burden on medical institutions would be too great.

The California Chamber of Commerce labeled the bill as a “job killer” because they see the estimated $7 billion in mandated bonuses as problematic for employers, according to Ashley Hoffman, a policy advocate at the chamber.

“There are facilities of all sizes, especially those in the rural areas that are extremely concerned,” Hoffman said. “Some could cost a billion, and some hundreds of millions of dollars that they just don’t have the ability to pay.”

She said it is also distressing that if a hospital could not afford the bonuses, it would not be allowed to reduce staff and would instead have to cut from the costs of services and other facilities.

In a coalition letter to the California State Assembly, the Chamber of Commerce pointed out that total losses for California hospitals in 2020 exceeded $8 billion, largely due to a lack of elective procedures and money spent on improving health and safety protocols and buying personal protective equipment to protect workers from COVID-19.

Many community clinics, physicians, skilled-nursing facilities, business leaders and others that part of a coalition against the bill see it as arbitrary, inequitable, and costly during a time of financial struggle, according to Valerie Lakey, executive director of community relations for Mayers Memorial Hospital District in Shasta County.

“These enormous, unfunded costs imposed by AB 650 would likely leave us with no other option than to cut or eliminate services such as hospice care, cardiac rehabilitation services, and outpatient respiratory therapy,” Lakey said in a news release from the California Hospital Association.


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