Providers scramble to prevent Congress from using COVID-19 relief monies to pay for infrastructure

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As the Senate rushes to finalize a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package, providers are hoping to prevent billions in COVID-19 relief money from being used to help pay for it. (Pixabay)

Several major hospital groups are ramping up efforts to prevent the Senate from using unspent COVID-19 relief funding to help pay for infrastructure.

The renewed push comes as a bipartisan group of senators is working to finalize a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package that could rely on unspent relief funds. Groups are concerned, as the pandemic is still having an impact on providers halfway through the year.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) wrote in a letter to congressional leadership late Monday that it would be “short-sighted” for Congress and the Biden administration to “take funding away from hospitals, health systems and other health providers while COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are surging again throughout the nation,” CEO Rick Pollack said.

The letter noted that 28 states are experiencing a 50% or more increase week-over-week of cases, and 12 states have more than 75% intensive care unit occupancy.

A collection of long-term care associations also wrote to leadership last Friday demanding that Congress not touch the relief funds.

“As you know, long-term care providers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for those most vulnerable to this virus,” the letter stated. “In doing so, they have incurred tens of billions of dollars in expenses and losses due to [personal protective equipment], staffing needs, overtime and incentive pay and record-low occupancy rates that continue to compound.”

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The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living and the association Argentum were among the groups that signed the letter.

The groups said that while providers got relief to offset losses that occurred in the first half of 2020, “many providers suffered more dire financial impacts later in 2020 and yet, have had no opportunity to obtain Provider Relief Funds for the losses and expenses incurred in the past 12 months.”

The Health Resources and Services Administration, which is distributing the funding, told Fierce Healthcare in a statement that the agency has approximately $24 billion in unallocated Provider Relief fund program money.

But providers are livid with the timeliness of distributing the remaining funds.

“The simple fact is that distributions have not kept pace with the pandemic, despite the existence of funding provided by Congress,” AHA’s letter stated. “Except for distributions from Phases 1 and 2, most distributions have been based on metrics from the first half of 2020—a timeframe from more than a year ago.”

AHA added that many systems incurred more losses in the fall and winter from surges.

“However, they have not received funding targeted to those timeframes, despite availability of that funding,” the letter noted. “That is unacceptable.”

It remains unclear whether the funding will be used as talks on a bipartisan package continue. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, did not give a time frame for bringing a package up for a vote, saying during a press conference Tuesday that lawmakers are “making good progress” on the legislation and another $3.5 trillion package.

“If an agreement can be reached, and I am very optimistic and hopeful it will be, senators should prepare to work through the weekend in order to finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Schumer said.