The Washington Post

Health-care providers receiving billions in aid

Money is first since start of pandemic to help with expenses, lost revenue

- BY AMY GOLDSTEIN amy.goldstein@washpost.com

The Biden administra­tion said Friday it is releasing billions of dollars that frustrated hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare providers have been awaiting for months to alleviate the coronaviru­s pandemic’s financial burden.

In an announceme­nt from the Department of Health and Human Services, officials said that $17 billion will be distribute­d to health-care providers to help cope with extra expenses and lost revenue, with smaller facilities and practices being paid more generously than larger health systems. The money represents most — but not all — of the amount never allotted from $178 billion Congress designated last year as part of pandemicre­lief laws.

An additional $8.5 billion, from the American Rescue Plan law adopted this year, is going to be sent to providers in rural areas with patients who are covered by Medicaid, Medicare and a children’s public health insurance program.

HHS officials said they are holding back an additional several billion dollars to have it available for helping to cover coronaviru­s treatment, testing and vaccinatio­ns for people who are uninsured.

Friday’s announceme­nt marks the first time any of the federal money intended to help the health-care system stave off financial hardship because of the pandemic has been handed out since President Biden took office.

A wide swath of the healthcare industry has been voicing escalating complaints in recent months that the money was sitting unused, especially as the highly contagious delta variant fills hospitals in some parts of the nation with patients sick with covid-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Previous money, given out in three phases, was available only for financial burdens incurred in the pandemic’s first months, through June 2020, although the vast majority of infections occurred since then. The newly released money can be applied to expenses from July 2020 through March of this year.

Health-care providers and practition­ers will be able to apply for some of the new round starting late this month, HHS said. And those that receive aid will have until the end of next year to spend it.

The administra­tion said it also is willing to review the amounts of money hospitals, nursing homes and others received in the most recent previous phase, which began during the final months President Donald Trump was in office. HHS on Friday issued more details about how that last money was allotted so providers can decide whether to request an adjustment.

Recent reports by the Government Accountabi­lity Office found that nearly $44 billion of the provider funds were sitting unused — and urged HHS to explain to Congress when it planned to spend it. Of that amount, $24.5 billion had never been allotted for a specific purpose, while the rest was available for a variety of reasons, including because a large health-care system gave back money, saying it did not need it.

Major health-care constituen­cies, which had been pressing the Biden administra­tion to stop sitting on the money, reacted Friday with qualified praise.

Calling the provider fund “a lifeline” that has helped hospitals and health systems stay open during the pandemic, Rick Pollack, the American Hospital Associatio­n’s president, said in a statement Friday that the organizati­on “appreciate­s the administra­tion for announcing plans to get additional critical relief funding for providers out the door.”

But Pollack and other healthcare industry leaders pointed out that the time frame for which money can be applied — through early this spring — stops before the number of coronaviru­s infections began its sharp climb of recent months.

“This announceme­nt doesn’t account for the spring and summer surges across the country due to the delta variant,” Pollack said.

One industry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid appearing ungrateful, noted that the $17 billion is less money than was distribute­d in the earlier phases and “will be used in the blink of an eye.”

For expenses and lost revenue after March, the official said, “we’ll have to go back to Congress.”

Mark Parkinson, president of the American Health Care Associatio­n, the main trade group for nursing homes and assistedli­ving facilities, said in a statement that the money is “long overdue but greatly appreciate­d.”

Katie Smith Sloan, president of Leadingage, a coalition of services for older Americans, said in a statement that the organizati­on has for months been appealing to the White House, HHS and members of Congress to try to apply pressure to have remaining funds released.

“We are thrilled that they are opening up” applicatio­ns for a new round, Smith Sloan said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on the release of the money.

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