Legislation Follows Decision from HHS Requiring Providers to Use Funds by a Set Deadline or Return Unused Funds
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced the Provider Relief Fund Deadline Extension Act to delay Provider Relief Funds (PRF) repayment until the end of 2021 or the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic public health emergency period.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established – and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act added to – the PRF in light of the COVID-19 pandemic to support hospital and provider response to the crisis. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) allocated a total of $178 billion to providers. However, HHS suddenly announced that if providers do not use their allocated funds by a certain deadline, they are required to return the money to HHS. The most recent change in reporting requirement guidance came less than one month prior to the first deadline to use funds, which was on June 30, 2021.
“This public health emergency has strained every level of America’s health care system, and it’s not over yet,” said Bennet. “Because of budget constraints and other factors, many hospitals and providers, especially in rural areas, struggled prior to the pandemic. Now, they face the possibility of having to pay back much-needed funds before they are out of the woods. We need to extend the payback deadline to ensure hospitals and providers can adequately serve their communities as we work to bring this pandemic to an end.”
“We established the Provider Relief Fund to offer financial assistance to members of our health care industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, but imprecise guidance from the Health and Human Services department prevented many of the program’s first recipients from using the funds they received by the June 30, 2021, deadline,” said Cramer. “Our bipartisan bill would give health care providers more time to use these resources by extending the spending deadline at least through the end of this year.”
"Delta County has effectively managed through the entire COVID incident in part due to the unified command and strength of the partnership with our local hospital. Our hospital is critical to the success of not only coming out of COVID but overall economic and amenity health of our County. During the entire pandemic impact period it is imperative that the federal government not burden our local hospital by requesting funds to be returned. Our hospital is still dealing with COVID patients and this continues to reduce overall revenue potential for all. Delta County encourages the federal government to delay the return of funds until COVID is at a baseline level," said Robbie LeValley, Delta County Administrator.
Many hospitals, especially small and rural ones, are managing their PRF to ensure the money can cover COVID-19 needs beyond a year. On top of covering necessary expenses like salaries, rural hospitals are using PRF to renovate their decrepit buildings, which enables them to provide better care. Additionally, in many areas, the rapidly-spreading Delta variant continues to strain hospitals as they once again near capacity with COVID-19 patients. Now, hospitals and providers fear they will be left on the hook for rising costs.
The Provider Relief Fund Deadline Extension Act will help ensure hospitals and providers have enough time to use their PRF to provide their patients with exceptional care, as well as cover the costs of staff, critical projects, equipment, and other necessary expenses.
In March 2020, Bennet and U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced the Immediate Relief for Rural Facilities and Providers Act to address the strains COVID-19 put on the health care system. In May 2020, Bennet and U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced legislation to reduce interest rates and modify repayment obligations for health care providers who have sought financial assistance through Medicare’s Accelerated and Advance Payments Program amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa) will introduce similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill text is available HERE.