On March 23, the American Hospital Association (AHA) sent a letter to Congress urging immediate additional support for hospitals and health systems during this public health crisis. “While the support Congress has provided during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has helped hospitals care for their patients and communities, there is still a significant need for financial support and relief as COVID-19 challenges persist,” the letter states.
The letter continues by saying that the AHA thanks Congress for helping caregivers and providers through the pandemic, but the virus still poses a threat to the U.S. The recent surge of cases and hospitalizations from the Omicron variant BA.2 should serve as a warning. Although the AHA strongly supports the Biden Administration’s request for federal support for vaccines and therapeutics, testing, research, and funding that supports the uninsured, the organization urges Congress to include direct support and relief for healthcare providers.
That said, “We ask Congress to extend the deadline for spending previously distributed funds and provide additional Provider Relief Fund (PRF) dollars for health care providers who continue to have lost revenues and increased expenses due to the tremendous financial strain caused by the Delta and Omicron variants.”
Further, “The AHA appreciates that Congress, as recently as December, has on a bipartisan basis, halted harmful and imminent Medicare cuts to hospitals and physicians by eliminating a two percent Medicare reduction until April 2022 and then lowering the cut to one percent for an additional three months.”
The letter then says without immediate action to delay sequestration by April 1, the organization estimates that hospitals will lose $3 billion by the end of the year. The AHA asks Congress to sequester relief until the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency or Dec. 31, 2022—whichever is later.
“In March 2020, both the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and Congress made changes to the existing Accelerated and Advance Payments Programs to provide additional benefits and flexibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter continues. “Subsequently, Congress amended the repayment terms for all providers and suppliers who requested and received accelerated and advance payment(s) during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
The letter then explains that these payments served as a “critical lifeline” to hospitals and health systems, however, the requirement to repay these funds places hospitals and health systems back into a precarious financial situation while they continue to work through the pandemic. The AHA proposes that Congress suspend repayments for six months to allow for recoupment after the repayment suspension at 25 percent of Medicare claims payments for the following 12 months.
The letter adds that “At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of regulatory requirements were waived to provide hospitals and health systems with critical flexibilities to manage the public health crisis. Hospitals and health systems used these newly permitted tools to increase capacity, separate areas of care for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, expand testing and telehealth capabilities, and mitigate workforce challenges. While these flexibilities were created as a direct response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, our members have found that this process acted as a catalyst for establishing new, innovative, and safe ways for delivering patient-centered care. We urge Congress to continue some of these flexibilities after the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
The letter concludes by urging Congress to continue the Hospital at Home programs that CMS permitted and make the telehealth waivers, that currently are expanded for 151 days after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, permanent.