Rep. Mike Levin and Bipartisan Group of 244 House Members Stand Up for Health Care Providers in Letter to HHS

October 22, 2020
Press Release

San Juan Capistrano, CA – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Levin (D-CA) and David B. McKinley (R-WV) led a letter with more than 240 Members of Congress to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar expressing concerns over recent changes that placed stricter limits on the way health care providers can use federal aid from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF). The PRF funds authorized under the CARES Act helped providers, including community health centers and hospitals, protect frontline health care workers and maintain access to the critical services they provide.

At the same time that Levin and his colleagues prepared to send their letter, HHS announced that it amended its reporting instructions to provide for the full applicability of PRF distributions to lost revenues, citing concern from stakeholders and Members of Congress.

“On September 19, 2020, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced changes to the PRF reporting requirements that could force many hospitals and other providers to return some of this vital funding and jeopardize patients’ access to care while the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote the Members. “This represents an about-face from the stipulations that HHS outlined months ago, which providers based their planning upon during an already tumultuous fiscal environment.”

“We are grateful to Rep. Mike Levin for his leadership on this important issue and glad to learn that HHS is reconsidering their guidance,” said Chris Van Gorder, Scripps president and CEO. “The new definitions for the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Securities (CARES) Act as issued by HHS on Sept. 19 are  sudden and extremely problematic. The new rules lack clarity and reverse our work to comply with prior regulations. What health care providers need right now is certainty. The pandemic is not over and we don’t know what lies ahead for us, but no matter what happens, we need to be prepared to serve our community.”

“UC San Diego is grateful for Congressman Levin’s leadership championing COVID-19 healthcare provider relief,” said Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health. “Since February, UC San Diego Health has worked tirelessly to prepare for, and adapt to, treating COVID-19 patients. As we continue responding to this public health emergency, the COVID-19 Provider Relief Fund functions as a lifeline for many safety net hospitals across the country, including ours. Recent changes to the Provider Relief Program’s guidance, if put into effect, will jeopardize this source of support and destabilize our ability to combat COVID-19 infections in our community.”

“Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, Health Center Partners of Southern California and its 16 member comprehensive health center organizations, which serve 850,000+ patients for 3.6 million patient visits each year, have struggled to meet the demands of providing services to our affected communities while keeping our doors open,” said Henry N. Tuttle, President and Chief Executive Officer. “These recently proposed changes to the Provider Relief Fund are dangerous and will hamper our ability to keep our frontline health care providers safe while providing high-quality, low-cost care. Congressman Levin’s willingness to fight for funds earmarked for our community health centers will minimize lost revenues and ensure that these vital lifesaving medical providers and allied health professionals are able to continue to serve as the safety net for our patients in San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties.”

Click here or see below for the Members’ full letter:

October 22, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Azar:

The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) authorized under the CARES Act has helped to provide America’s health care providers with the resources needed to deliver essential public services during the COVID-19 pandemic.  These funds have been deployed to help protect the safety of frontline providers and patients, and in many cases, have helped enable providers to keep their doors open.

On September 19, 2020, the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) announced changes to the PRF reporting requirements that could force many hospitals and other providers to return some of this vital funding and jeopardize patients’ access to care while the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.  This represents an about-face from the stipulations that HHS outlined months ago, which providers based their planning upon during an already tumultuous fiscal environment. HHS should return to PRF reporting requirements established on June 19, 2020.

Congress has acted several times this year to add funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to reimburse health care providers for COVID-19-related health care expenses and lost revenues.  Eligible providers are required to submit reports and maintain documentation to ensure compliance with payment rules.  On June 19, HHS released a frequently asked question defining lost revenue as any revenue lost due to COVID-19 and said providers should “use any reasonable method of estimating the revenue during March and April 2020 compared to the same period had COVID-19 not appeared.”  Providers applied for and budgeted the use of PRF funds based on this HHS guidance.  However, on September 19, HHS changed the definition of lost revenue, placing many struggling providers in an untenable situation.  Now, funding is only accessible for COVID-19-related expenses and lost revenue up to the amount of a provider’s 2019 net patient operating income. This change will dramatically reduce the amount of lost revenue providers can claim, create a massive administrative burden, and may force many struggling providers to return some of their payments.

This sudden and dramatic shift has created numerous problems for the nation’s hospitals at the very same time they continue to be our first line of defense against the COVID-19 pandemic.  We therefore urge you to reinstate the June 19 requirements so that our frontline providers are able to focus their full resources on protecting the health and safety of the communities they serve.

Sincerely,

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