Hospital groups press HHS to give out rest of relief funds, extend key deadline

A collection of hospital groups is pressing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to distribute the remainder of a $178 billion provider relief fund and extend a deadline for providers to use the money.

The nine groups, which include the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), wrote to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Monday to outline their concerns. Chief among them is to extend a June 30 deadline for providers to use their relief fund payments.

“We anticipate financial challenges will persist for America’s hospitals and health systems, with more financial impact expected due to the pandemic,” the letter said.

The groups want the deadline to be extended through the end of the public health emergency, which is expected to run through the rest of this year.

Congress passed a $178 billion relief fund as part of the CARES Act last year to help providers plug major revenue shortfalls that occurred due to the pandemic. Hospitals were forced to cancel or postpone elective procedures to preserve capacity for fighting the virus and providers saw patient volumes plummet due to fear of contracting the virus.

Even though patient volumes have rebounded, they are still below pre-pandemic levels for most providers. A report commissioned by the AHA projected hospitals could lose as much as $122 billion this year.

“Our hospitals will continue to face challenges beyond June 30 in providing adequate staffing, supplies, personal protective equipment, testing and vaccinations,” the letter said.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, which is overseeing distribution of the funds, told Fierce Healthcare in a statement that it has approximately $24 billion remaining in unallocated funds and it is working "as quickly as possible to distribute these funds and will soon provide updates to the provider community on when these resources will be available."

Congress has also passed $8.5 billion for rural providers as part of the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year. Rural providers traditionally operate on thin profit margins and have been hit especially hard financially due to the pandemic.

In addition to the FAH and AHA, other signers of the letter were America’s Essential Hospitals, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Children’s Hospital Association, the National Association for Behavioral Healthcare, the Premier Healthcare Alliance and Vizient.