| Dear Colleague,|
By helping to ease the burden on hospital emergency rooms and flatten the curve of the outbreak, our profession is doing so much right now for our patients, our communities, our states and our country. As optometry does its part and more, the AOA will continue to fight for fairness in Washington, D.C., and provide important resources to assist you through these challenging times.
Here's the latest on: Emergency HHS grants
On April 10, doctors of optometry and other physicians who billed Medicare in 2019 began receiving checks from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to continue to support their practices during the COVID-19 public health emergency. This financial support is not required to be paid back. The AOA appreciates the swift action of HHS following our correspondence urging the agency to make the direct payments immediately and to ensure that doctors of optometry would be recognized as fully eligible physicians under the new program. We expect additional funding to be released to doctors in the coming days and AOA is pushing HHS to do more to support doctors of optometry across the country, including those who do not care for traditional Medicare patients. Beginning on April 17, doctors who have not yet received support from HHS should be able to check their status at hhs.gov/providerrelief.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)
The AOA is continuing to work with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to remove unnecessary barriers to much-needed funding for physician practices. The AOA has resources for identifying SBA lenders, webinars to review essential information on the PPP and EIDL application process and guidance on tracking payments made with funding received via the PPP. The AOA has received many inquiries regarding the availability of these funding opportunities to independent contractors. Both EIDL and PPP are available for independent contractors and practice owners.
Unemployment insurance expansion
As part of the federal CARES Act, the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program helps unemployed individuals who are business owners, self-employed, independent contractors and others not historically eligible for regular state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, as a direct result of COVID-19.
The program includes: Up to 39 weeks of benefits, starting with your weeks of unemployment beginning on Jan. 27, 2020, through the week ending Dec. 31, 2020. An additional $600 to each PUA weekly amount you may be eligible to receive, as part of the separate CARES Act Pandemic Additional Compensation program. Only the weeks of a claim between March 29 and July 31 are eligible for the extra $600 payments. Because this is a new program, each state is scrambling to develop the necessary system programming, forms, processes and procedures to carry out the law. Medicare's emergency telehealth expansion
Medicare has made additional changes regarding how to report and bill care provided via telehealth during the COVID-19 public health emergency. To allow Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) time to update their claims processing systems, the AOA recommends doctors of optometry consider holding submission of Medicare claims for 10 days, until April 22.
For additional information about these changes, attend the latest installment of AOA’s COVID-19 resources webinar series.
#AskAOA COVID-19 Resources Webinar IV: Update on Telehealth & COVID-19, Monday, April 20, at 9 p.m. ET. Access previous versions in AOA’s COVID-19 resources webinar series.
Student debt relief
Students and new graduates have been impacted by the current public health emergency in significant ways. To help support students and new graduates, the AOA is hosting a webinar—#AskAOA What Students and New Grads Need to Know about COVID-19 Relief Efforts, Student Debt, and More—on Thursday, April 23, at 9 p.m. ET. Together with our state associations, the AOA is working 24/7 to ensure that doctors of optometry and optometric practices nationwide are treated fairly as policymakers decide on the scope and reach of crisis relief and recovery programs. In addition to ensuring that doctors of optometry receive the assistance we need and deserve, we will continue to deliver the most accurate and up-to-date information to you through aoa.org/coronavirus, our social media channels and direct messages.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with questions, comments and recommendations at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barbara L. Horn, O.D.
AOA President William T. Reynolds, O.D.