Feds to dole out $165M to rural hospitals to expand effort to fight COVID-19

The Trump administration is doling out nearly $165 million to rural hospitals across the country to help them buy personal protective equipment, use telehealth and get testing set up.

But the funding will not be used to prop up the cratering revenues rural hospitals have been facing due to COVID-19. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said on a call Wednesday with reporters that the money is separate from a $100 billion fund passed by Congress to prop up hospital finances.

The goal is to help hospitals "facing new costs related to the pandemic," said Tom Engels, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, on the call.

The new funding will also be used to pay for testing and laboratory services and to help hospitals prop up temporary drive-thru and walk-up screenings for COVID-19.

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HHS officials said that there could be variability from state to state, but on average each rural hospital will get about $84,000.

Officials on the call wouldn’t say when more money from the $100 billion provider relief fund will be released.

HHS dispersed $30 billion to providers based on historical Medicare spending.

Rural and safety net hospital groups have complained that the funding methodology was flawed as hospitals rely on other sources of revenue like Medicaid.

Officials on the call also rolled out a new website called Telehealth.HHS.gov to provide a resource to both providers and patients. The website will offer new resources on how providers can sign up patients and on reimbursement.

More money for hospitals is likely on the way. Congressional leaders have reached a deal for a $484 billion aid package that includes $75 billion for hospitals and another $25 billion for testing capacity.

The Senate passed the package Monday, and the House could vote on it in a couple of days.