The Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that it is taking additional steps to provide federal coronavirus relief funding to health care providers and hospitals that care for the poor and uninsured.
The agency, which has come under fire in recent weeks for delays in distributing the $175 billion in federal support that Congress authorized in late March and April, expects to dole out about $15 billion to providers that participate in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program but have not yet received payments from the relief fund that Congress authorized. The money is intended to compensate those that lost revenue or had increased expenses because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency will launch a portal Wednesday that will allow eligible Medicaid and CHIP providers to report their annual patient revenue, which is used to determine their share of the $15 billion fund. This will allow the agency to distribute funds to the 38% of providers who did not receive money in the initial $50 billion general distribution, which went to more than 1 million providers.
The additional funding is expected to support several hundred thousand more providers, including pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, dentists, opioid treatment and mental health specialists, assisted living facilities and other home and community providers.
Also, safety net hospitals that serve a large share of low-income Americans and the uninsured will receive $10 billion this week. It will go to providers with profit margins of 3% or less. They will each get between $5 million and $50 million in federal support.
The agency is also asking all hospitals to provide updated data on their coronavirus admissions so it can distribute a second round of $10 billion in funding to providers in hot spots. And it is working on distributing relief to dentists.
Last week, a partisan group of senators and representatives sent a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar about the hold up in sending federal funds to hospitals that treat many Medicaid patients.
“We are concerned that the delay in disbursing funds from the [relief fund] for Medicaid-dependent providers could result in long term financial hardship for providers who serve some of our most vulnerable populations,” the lawmakers wrote. “It could also severely hamper their ability to continue to serve as essential providers amid the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”
The letter was signed by Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican; Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat; House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., a New Jersey Democrat; and House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican.
Hospital industry groups have repeatedly called attention to the delays in distribution, particularly for safety net hospitals.
“Covid-19 continues to exact a high financial toll on essential hospitals, which operate with narrow margins and limited cash reserves as they anchor the front lines of this public health emergency,” said Bruce Siegel, CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. “Each day that passes without more funding for the safety net pushes these hospitals closer to a financial crisis that will put their communities at risk. The administration must act immediately to release more aid that targets Medicaid-reliant providers.”
The first $30 billion of congressional relief funds was doled out in mid-April based on hospitals’ prior Medicare reimbursements, not the share of coronavirus patients – which means hard-hit areas didn’t get an extra boost when they needed it most. The agency said it did this because it was the fastest way for it to get money out the door, but it also meant that it missed many providers that care for low-income patients. Hospitals then received an additional $20 billion based on their 2018 net patient revenue.
However, hospitals that treat mostly patients with private insurance received more than twice as much of the initial $50 billion in federal relief funds per bed than those that get the smallest share of private insurance money, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, published in mid-May.