The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday announced it will amend the reporting timeline for the Provider Relief Fund, giving home health agencies and others more time to prepare required information. The news comes shortly after Congress clarified financial dos and don’ts of the program.
Originally, the opening date for HHS’s Provider Relief Fund reporting portal was slated for Jan. 15, with the first deadline set at Feb. 15.
The formal delay is the result of Congress passing the Federal Appropriations Act at the end of December, which authorized HHS to distribute an additional $3 billion in relief funds to health care services providers.
As of now, no new official compliance deadline has been set.
“HHS has been working to update the [Provider Relief Fund] reporting requirements to be consistent with this new law,” the health department said in a statement. “That said, as HHS has done in the past, the department wanted to give recipients ample time to familiarize themselves with the updated reporting requirements well in advance of required submission deadlines.”
For now, HHS has still opened its online reporting portal for providers starting on Friday. Providers that have received relief fund payments exceeding $10,000 should establish accounts and begin the reporting process, officials suggest.
Aside from authorizing a fresh tranche of funds, the Federal Appropriations Act included new provisions that made changes to the scope of Provider Relief Fund payments. For home health providers, especially larger ones with multiple business segments or entities, this means new flexibilities around how the funds can be utilized.
Under the new law, providers are able to transfer relief funds between their corporate parents and subsidiaries.
“Some of the prior HHS guidance had suggested that [relief funds] earned from some of the targeted distributions — which are distributions that went out to specific provider types, such as nursing facilities or hospitals — had to remain with the entity that received it,” Anil Shankar, a partner at law firm Foley & Lardner LLP, told Home Health Care News. “Congress kind of overrode that, declaring that the funds can be transferred within the corporate family.”
The recently passed appropriations legislation also reverts guidelines around calculating lost revenues back to what was previously in place as of June 2020. Updates guidelines require providers to calculate lost revenues using any “reasonable method of estimating the revenue” compared to the same period in the absence of COVID-19.
“It allows providers to run a comparison of the difference between their budgeted revenue versus their actual revenue, which is significant because the October-November guidance would not have permitted that,” Shankar said. “[It] instead required a year-over-year comparison, which in some cases, may not have been a very accurate comparison.”
Shankar noted that the previous guidance in place was a point of contention among health care organizations. Providers, generally, viewed the requirements as overly restrictive.
Still, some uncertainty around how providers should calculate budgeted versus actual revenue remains.
“Now, you can use budgeted versus actual as your comparison to identify the amount of lost revenues,” Shankar said. “But there are still questions about what counts as a budget discretion and what counts as actual.”
There are also questions around the time period, he added.
“It’s not clear to me now, with a new legal change, if they’re going back to something different or more flexible, where you can do it on a quarter-by-quarter basis, or if it’s still a full year at a time,” Shankar said.
Shankar said he believes the HHS Provider Relief Fund reporting portal being open may provide the answers to some of these lingering questions.
Provider Relief Fund distribution first began in April of last year with an initial tranche of $30 billion to Medicare-reimbursed health care providers. The federal government has since added to that with several more general and targeted relief rounds, with the latest being a $24 billion infusion in December.