HHS Tees Up Coronavirus Relief Payments to Medicaid Providers with Latest Request

Weeks after Medicare providers began receiving their CARES Act relief payments, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking states to send in their Medicaid reimbursement data.

The move gets the ball rolling for Medicaid providers — including many home health and personal care agencies — to receive relief payments of their own, though the disbursement process and timeline is still unclear.

So far, HHS has allocated $70 billion of the $100 billion in emergency coronavirus relief payments made possible by the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. But none of that money has been designated specifically for Medicaid providers as of yet.

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HHS’s move indicates that could be changing.

Department officials sent states the request for data Friday, May 1, a few days after the National Association of Medicaid Directors (NAMD) asked them to. The goal is to help HHS identify the scope of each Medicaid provider’s relief needs, based on reimbursement from 2018 and 2019.

Because Medicaid is a state-administered program, states — rather than HHS — have that data. However, the CARES Act doesn’t allow for HHS to send the relief money to state Medicaid programs to dole out; instead, it mandates that payments be made directly to providers themselves, a requirement most in the program are happy about.

Historically, when the federal government has given Medicaid money directly to states to distribute, in-home care providers receive relatively little after funding is split up.

“We think that working with the states to get this information is the right approach,” NAMD Director of Federal Policy Jack Rollins told HHCN.

Even so, the process hasn’t been perfect. For one, HHS only gave states four days to compile their 2018 and 2019 Medicaid reimbursement data, requesting that submissions be turned in by Tuesday, May 5, at midnight. 

“It’s a pretty substantial data pull, so the deadline is challenging,” Rollins said. “But we are aware that CMS is entertaining extensions on a state-by-state basis for that.”

Rollins said states should be able to comply with the request once they have a clear understanding of the parameters and technical nuances of the data requests, though it’s not “the easiest thing to do.”

Still, the move is welcomed by those who have complained that Medicaid providers have been largely left out of coronavirus relief efforts.

The first round of funding split up $30 billion between Medicare providers, who started receiving the money April 10. The second round — announced April 22 — designated $40 billion for general reimbursement, as well as for providers in hot spots and rural areas.

Organizations like NAMD, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) and Medicaid-reimbursed home health agencies have spoken out about the exclusion of Medicaid providers.

Back in April, MACPAC penned a letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma stressing the importance of taking Medicaid providers into consideration.

Medicaid-reimbursed home health providers and NAMD shared similar sentiments with HHCN, expressing disappointment that HHS only recently took tangible steps to start the process.

“HHS — with the initial transfer of funding — was using the data that it had readily on hand, which is Medicare data,” Rollins said. “In the interest of expediency, that approach did make sense, but we were a little disappointed that, as HHS described its subsequent methodologies, Medicaid still wasn’t a primary factor in their considerations until later in the process.”

Rollins declined to speculate on when Medicaid providers might see coronavirus relief payments, but said he’s pleased to see HHS now taking action.

“We’re glad that we’re in a position now to be helping inform HHS to make some decisions around how best to support Medicaid providers,” he said.

HHCN reached out to CMS for this story, but had not yet received comment at the time of publication.

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