Another round of Covid-19 relief is being made available to health care groups, including assisted living providers.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday announced that it is releasing $25.5 billion in new funding for health care providers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The portal to apply for funds will open on Sept. 29.
Assisted living providers will be included in the PRF allocation, American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) President David Schless confirmed to Senior Housing News.
The release of these funds has been long awaited and comes after pressure from senior living associations, Congressional lawmakers and other organizations.
Industry organizations praised the announcement.
“This financial aid is long overdue, but greatly appreciated by the long term care sector. Nursing homes and assisted living communities continue to spend billions of dollars to fight COVID while grappling with an economic and workforce crisis spurred by the pandemic. These federal funds are critical in helping providers acquire the ongoing staff support, personal protective equipment, and testing they need to protect our residents and staff members as well as prevent facility closures. We hope to see this aid delivered swiftly to the frontlines, so our nation’s most vulnerable continue to receive the high quality, long term care they deserve,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL), in a statement.
His comments were echoed by LeadingAge President and CEO Katie Smith Sloan.
“We are thrilled that the application process for additional Provider Relief Funds is being opened up and that payments in this phase are structured to address the specific financial challenges of medium and small providers, as well as those who serve Medicaid, CHIP and/or Medicare patients. We’ve been pushing for more funds for months; we’ve gone to HRSA, the White House, HHS. And we’ve talked to Congress to apply pressure,” she said in a statement.
Argentum continues to seek clarification on the specific distribution criteria, but added that the group is “hopeful the Biden Administration has recognized the significant COVID-related losses senior living facilities have incurred and ensured they are eligible for this new round of federal relief funds,” President and CEO James Balda said in a statement.
This latest round includes $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) resources for providers who serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or Medicare patients; and an additional $17 billion for Phase 4 Provider Relief Funds (PRF) for myriad health care organizations who can document revenue loss and expenses associated with the pandemic.
Phase 4 payments will be based on providers’ lost revenues and expenditures between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Smaller providers will be reimbursed at a higher rate compared to larger providers, and bonus payments will be included for providers serving Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP patients who tend to be lower income and with more complex medical needs.
To help ensure that these provider relief funds are used for patient care, PRF recipients will be required to notify the HHS Secretary of any merger with, or acquisition of, another health care provider during the period in which they can use the payments. Providers who report a merger or acquisition may be more likely to be audited to confirm their funds were used for coronavirus-related costs, consistent with an overall risk-based audit strategy.
HHS is also releasing detailed information about its methodology in calculating Phase 3 PRF payments, in a nod toward transparency. Providers that believe their payments were incorrectly calculated can now appeal the ruling.
Finally, the agency announced a 60-day grace period for providers to come into compliance with reporting requirement, if they fail to meet a Sept. 30, 2021 deadline. During this grace period, HHS will not initiate collection activities for noncompliant providers.
“The funding will be distributed with an eye towards equity, to ensure providers who serve our most vulnerable communities will receive the support they need,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
HHS has distributed over $118.5 billion in provider relief funds since the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CARES) Act was passed by Congress on March 27, 2020. The agency in September 2020 formally opened Phase 2 of the PRF program to private-pay assisted living assisted living providers.
Phase 3 of the program was boosted from $20 billion to $24 billion in December 2020.
The rise in Covid-19 delta variant cases across the country, particularly in rural areas, spurred industry organizations to call on the Biden administration to release the funds soon. Nearly $44 billion in PRF funds were not distributed as of Sept. 1, 2021, the Washington Post reported.
In June, Sabra Health Care REIT CEO Rick Matros anticipated that the senior housing and skilled nursing sectors would receive $10 billion in allocations, based on information he was privy to at the time.