During the Delta and Omicron surges, hospitals and health systems faced significant challenges, prompting AHA to ask Congress for additional COVID-19 financial support.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) has urged Congress to provide hospitals and health systems with additional COVID-19 financial support, including more Provider Relief Funds and an extension on the Medicare sequester relief.
In a letter to congressional leaders, AHA expressed gratitude for the past resources that the government has provided hospitals and health systems but stressed that healthcare providers continue to face financial struggles.
“While the nation remains weary and is eager to move past this pandemic, the virus continues to evolve and pose a threat to our nation’s healthcare system,” the letter stated. “The recent surge of cases and hospitalizations abroad fueled by the Omicron variant known as BA.2 serves as a critical warning: The battle is not over, and hospitals and health systems continue to need resources and flexibilities to care for patients and protect communities.”
While AHA said it supports the Biden Administration’s request for federal aid for vaccines, testing, and research, the trade organization has asked Congress to also provide direct relief for healthcare providers, including additional Provider Relief Funds.
Congress established the Provider Relief Fund under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to offer financial support to healthcare providers who lost revenue during the pandemic.
According to AHA, the funding has been distributed in several rounds of targeted payments with strict requirements about how and when providers can use the money. The letter also noted how Congress did not allocate funds to address hospital expenses related to the Delta or Omicron variant surges. Hospitals saw increased case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths during these surges, which caused them to experience significant financial and operational challenges.
AHA has asked Congress to extend the deadline for spending previously distributed funds and distribute more funds for healthcare providers that have faced financial struggles due to the Delta and Omicron surges.
This request comes days after HHS announced it would distribute another $413 million in Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds, bringing the Phase 4 total funds to nearly $12 billion allocated to more than 82,000 providers. Organizations that receive Provider Relief Funds during the first half of 2022 have until June 30, 2023, to spend them, HHS said.
AHA also urged Congress to extend the moratorium on Medicare sequestration in its letter. In December 2021, the House and the Senate passed legislation that paused the 2 percent Medicare payment cuts until April 2022. The cut will be lowered to 1 percent for the next three months following the April timeline.
If Congress does not delay the sequestration further than April, AHA estimated that hospitals would lose $3 billion by the end of the year, mostly driven by high labor costs and the extensive costs of treating COVID-19 cases. The trade organization has asked Congress to extend the Medicare payment cut relief until the end of the public health emergency or December 31, 2022, whichever comes later.
At the start of the pandemic, CMS and Congress expanded the Accelerated and Advance Payments Programs to offer health systems additional support. Officials also adjusted repayment timelines for providers that received the payments.
AHA has asked Congress to suspend repayments for six months to financially support hospitals and health systems as they continue to face pandemic-related challenges. Additionally, the group asked officials to allow for recoupment after the repayment suspension at 25 percent of Medicare claims payments for the following year.
Finally, AHA urged Congress to preserve certain regulatory flexibilities that officials introduced during the pandemic, including Hospital at Home waivers and telehealth waivers.
Hospital at Home waivers allowed patients to receive care in their homes, which led to quality care delivery, high patient satisfaction rates, and shorter recovery times for some patients, AHA said.
Congress has expanded telehealth flexibilities for 151 days after the public health emergency, and AHA requested that officials make these waivers permanent to maintain telehealth access.