The federal government announced Thursday that the Provider Relief Fund will be replenished with a tranche of $20 billion.
Unlike some of the previous rounds of relief, home health providers and others will have to apply for funding. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will begin accepting applications from providers on Oct. 5, marking the start of the third phase of the fund.
The Provider Relief Fund has sent out over $100 billion to health care providers during the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to home health providers, the fund has helped support skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), hospitals, assisted living operators and even some behavioral health organizations.
“HHS has worked to ensure that all American health care providers receive support from the Provider Relief Fund in a fast and fair way, and this new round helps ensure that we are reaching America’s essential behavioral health providers and takes into account losses and expenses relating to coronavirus,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. “We’ve worked with all of the resources we have across HHS to ensure that America’s heroic health care providers know they can apply for support.”
Under the Phase 3 stage, providers that have already received funding and those that have denied it in the past are able to apply to help cover losses tied to the COVID-19 virus. Unlike previous rounds based on past years’ financial data, home health providers that began operating in 2020 — from January to March of this year — are eligible to apply for relief.
“We are very pleased that HHS has established a new distribution to support those health care providers that have been especially impacted by COVID-19,” National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) President William A. Dombi told Home Health Care News in an email.
Although more funding for home health providers is helpful, Dombi also added that he believed it was time for non-Medicare-certified home care providers to receive some sort of relief. To date, those providers have not received any official federal funding outside of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Policymakers don’t have to search too far to find a precedent for supporting non-medical, private-pay home care businesses. HHS announced in September that private-pay assisted living operators were eligible for funding under the Provider Relief Fund Phase 2 General Distribution.
“It would also be essential that HHS open a distribution to the crucial home care providers that do not provide Medicare or Medicaid services,” Dombi said. “Those home care providers serve highly vulnerable populations of the elderly and persons with disabilities. We have made repeated requests to include those home care providers in the distributions.”
The application window for the latest tranche of funding closes on Nov. 6 — and the money is likely to go fast. That’s why the government is urging needy providers to apply as soon as possible.
“We know providers want to receive payments shortly after submitting their information. However, this distribution requires cooperation on the part of all applicants,” HHS wrote in an online announcement. “Again, HHS is urging all eligible providers to apply early; do not wait until the last day or week of the application period. Applying early will help to expedite HHS’s review process and payment calculations, and ultimately accelerate the distribution of all payments.”
NAHC has also expressed concerns about the standards by which providers can apply for funding. Some of the unclear qualifications for federal funding have scared off providers or hindered their ability to get assistance in the first place.
“HHS must address the problems created by its recent change to the standards for what ‘lost revenues’ are covered by the fund,” Dombi said. “We have been partnering with HHS on this important relief for months, but still need these remaining areas to be resolved soon.”
HHS also began sending COVID-19 tests from Abbott to home health agencies this week. Over 10 million tests have been allotted for home health and hospice agencies, and providers have reportedly begun receiving them.
Over 258,000 tests are scheduled to go out between home health and hospice providers this week, a HHS spokesperson told HHCN.