HHS says nearly $106B in CARES aid has been distributed to providers

Dive Brief:

  • The federal government has shelled out some $106 billion in relief payments to providers since the signing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtually all of that has been for hospitals, doctors and other providers in terms of direct assistance. However, $1.3 billion in payments have been made to cover COVID testing and treatment for uninsured patients.
  • More than 525,000 individual providers have received some form of payment from the CARES Act funds. Of those, more than 343,000 have attested that they met the terms and conditions for receiving the money. Disbursements to individual providers ranged from slightly more than $1 to $300,000 per person, according to records released by HHS.
  • Meanwhile, the department issued new guidelines to ostensibly tighten up reporting requirements for providers claiming COVID-related losses in order to obtain reimbursements. The American Hospital Association has pushed back against that change, claiming the new guidelines are “simply unfair and unrealistic.”

Dive Insight:

The CARES Act was rapidly put together by lawmakers in late March during the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Altogether, about $175 billion was earmarked for hospitals and other healthcare providers.

According to the data HHS released late last week, a good chunk of that funding — about $105.8 billion in total — has gone out the door. That’s significantly higher than the about $61 billion that had been delivered at the end of July.

So far, $104.5 billion has gone to individual healthcare providers. Another $1.27 billion has gone to testing and treating uninsured patients for COVID-19: $824.8 million for care and another $445.3 million for testing.

However, whether that largesse continues remains to be seen. Under CARES, all funding recipients agreed to keep records regarding their COVID-related losses. The rule was fairly general: Any loss related to COVID-19 could qualify for a payment.

HHS on Sept. 19 released new guidelines for applying and receiving reimbursement related to COVID-19, stating the lost revenue should be defined as a negative change in year-over-year net patient care operating income.

AHA immediately voiced deep concern about the new guidelines, which make providers eligible for lower payments.

According to a letter AHA CEO Rick Pollack sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar late last week, the rule change could deprive hospitals of additional needed CARES payments, particularly those located in rural communities. The letter noted that under the revised guidelines, one rural facility would have to return $16 million of the $20 million it received in CARES payments.

“Forcing … hospitals to return many of their payments runs counter to [the reasoning of CARES], and to the interest of their patients and communities,” Pollack wrote. “This is especially true as those hospitals must work to rebuild their capacity, while continuing to remain in a constant state of readiness for any emergencies, particularly in regard to confronting the pandemic.”