Covid Health Provider Relief Fund to be Revamped, HHS Head Says


June 7, 2021 3:06 pm

The Biden administration will soon release guidance on what health-care providers can do with unspent stimulus funds, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told lawmakers.

HHS this month will outline how health-care providers can “apply for and make use, good use, of their monies,” Becerra said Tuesday. He declined to say whether the department will extend the June 30 deadline for providers to spend Covid-19 stimulus funds.

Becerra signaled that HHS under the Biden administration will change how the remaining $24 billion in relief money will be distributed compared with the $150 billion already given out over the past year.

“We’re trying to make sure we don’t make the mistakes of the past,” Becerra told members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Congress, through two laws, approved $178 billion in provider relief funds, money to hospitals and doctors that shut down services during the early spread of Covid-19. Those that received money through the two laws (Public Law 116-136Public Law 117-7) face a June 30 deadline to spend it.

Hospital groups in May asked HHS to extend that deadline and distribute the remaining $24 billion in the relief fund. Long-term care groups have complained they didn’t get their fair share of the relief.

Providers must spend the relief money on Covid-related activities and many are still not back to pre-pandemic revenue, Michael Strazzella, head of federal government relations at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, a law firm and lobbying group, said. Some hospitals want to funnel the funds to vaccination programs or to bring back staff cut during the pandemic, he said.

“Every dollar is meaningful to these providers,” he said.

The Trump administration released the relief money through several waves that each took a different tack: $46 billion was given to providers that billed Medicare; almost $6 billion went to providers in Medicaid; and $24.5 billion was distributed to providers who reported financial losses. Other funds were targeted to safety net and rural hospitals as well as other facilities.

Becerra said the HHS wants to give providers some flexibility in how they use the funds and remain transparent about how they’re distributed.