Hospital groups make new press to Senate to add more money to provider relief fund

A collection of hospital groups is imploring the Senate to add more money to a provider relief fund to help facilities deal with lingering financial shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nine groups sent a letter to Senate leadership on Thursday as the House is expected to consider a $1.9 trillion relief package within the next week. The groups say that a $178 billion provider relief fund passed under the CARES Act is not enough to help providers.

“To date, the bulk of this funding has either been distributed or allocated for payments to account for losses incurred into the first quarter of this year,” the letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “However, we anticipate financial challenges will persist for America’s hospitals and health systems.”

America’s Essential Hospitals, the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Federation of American Hospitals, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Children’s Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association of the United States were among the hospital groups who signed on to the letter.

Healthcare improvement companies Premier and Vizient signed onto the letter alongside the National Association for Behavioral Health.

The letter comes as hospital groups are ramping up their efforts to lobby Congress to direct more funding to providers.

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The $1.9 trillion package under consideration by the House does not include new money for the relief fund but does include money for vaccine distribution.

AHA CEO Rick Pollack said during a call with reporters Wednesday that the package can still be amended in the Senate, and the group is seeking $35 billion to be added to the fund.

He also announced a new report commissioned by the AHA and conducted by Kaufman Hall that estimated hospitals could lose between $53 and $122 billion due to the pandemic in 2021.

Hospitals need “additional funding to both participate in the vaccination efforts as well as care for large numbers of critically ill patients, maintain sufficient staffing and continue to acquire enough personal protective equipment and other resources necessary to do this critical work,” the hospital groups’ letter said.

Hospitals have faced major drops in revenue due to the pandemic as they had to cancel or postpone elective procedures to preserve capacity to fight the virus. While volumes rebounded in the summer, they remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Kaufman’s report estimated that revenues could still be down in 2021 as patients remain hesitant to return for care.

Hospital groups have sought some other key legislation from Congress, chief among them an extension on a moratorium on a 2% Medicare payment cut. The cuts were installed as part of sequestration but delayed by Congress at the onset of the pandemic.

However, that moratorium is expected to expire at the end of March. Hospital groups want the moratorium to be extended through the public health emergency for COVID-19, which the Biden administration has hinted could remain in place for the entirety of 2021.