HHS Delays Provider Relief Fund Spending Reports Until 2021

Home health providers that received more than $10,000 from the COVID-19-inspired Provider Relief Fund will need to account for all of the grant funds they spent by Feb. 15 at the latest, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced earlier this week.

When the Provider Relief Fund was established, health care providers were originally going to have to submit quarterly reports beginning in July. HHS delayed that deadline and then told providers to hold tight for further guidance.

Now, home health providers have until early 2021, but can begin reporting on how they used their relief funds as early as Oct. 1 of this year. Broadly, relief funds are designed to help cover monetary losses directly tied to the COVID-19 crisis and its economic impact.

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Through the CARES Act, $175 billion was distributed to health care providers across the country from the Provider Relief Fund.

“I think there’s a growing recognition by HHS of the complexity of what providers are being asked to do in utilizing these provider relief funds, documenting usage of them and then reporting that out,” Matt Wolfe, a partner at law firm Parker Poe, told Home Health Care News. “I think HHS is trying to develop a little bit more consensus within its walls before they start demanding that providers report information.”

HHS will be releasing more detailed instructions on how to report by Aug. 17.

Without further clarification, reporting will likely be sloppier and inconsistent across the board, which could draw the process out even further, Wolfe said.

“I think this was a recognition of HHS needing additional time to be able to really refine the reporting requirements,” he added.

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The $10,000 threshold takes into account the total amount of relief each provider received. So if a provider received two smaller amounts that added up to more than $10,000, it wouldd still be on the hook for reporting by February of next year.

“This announcement was really clarifying to providers when HHS intends to release additional information about the reporting requirements. It was also notifying providers when they’re going to release a reporting system that will allow recipients to be able to make these reports,” Wolfe said. “HHS was fielding a lot of questions from providers thinking that they had to make reports now. So that was the purpose of the announcement, [to clarify that].”

The next stimulus package, meanwhile, could make way for an expansion of that Provider Relief Fund, which would mean even more relief for providers in the future.

HHS began distributing provider relief payments to Medicare-certified home health agencies on April 10.

Initially, U.S. health care officials described the payments as having “no strings attached.” As time moved on, however, providers started to realize that wasn’t entirely the case, with some even declining the CARES Act money that had been allocated to them.

Encompass Health Corporation (NYSE: EHC) is one example.

“At the end of the day, we just felt, as a well-capitalized company, we had access to a variety of funding resources,” Encompass Health CEO Mark Tarr said during a May investor presentation. “We just thought it was the best decision for Encompass Health to return the funds.”

As for what further details could come out of the next announcement, that remains to be seen. While some speculated that the quarterly-report style could be done away with completely, Wolfe isn’t so sure.

“We’re still having to wait and see what the detailed instructions are going to be that they release later in August, but I don’t read this announcement to say that the quarterly requirements are necessarily going to go away,” Wolfe said.

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