As COVID-19 rages on in many parts of the United States, the federal government approved another round of funding for beleaguered health workers. Pegged at $2 billion, the financial aid is granted via the Provider Relief Funds (PRF) and is being disbursed as of early February 2022.
Federal health officials announced the availability of new relief funds, which make up part of the fourth phase of PRF’s general distribution payments. The beneficiaries include more than 7,600 healthcare providers in the United States.
Most care facilities already had nursing home insurance plans even before COVID-19 struck. But the new funding will be a significant contribution to ongoing efforts to fight the public health crisis brought about by the pandemic.
If you recall, $9 billion in aid was already released to various providers in December 2021 as part of the program’s Phase 4 payment schedule. Among the recipients were healthcare providers that incurred lost revenues and increased costs caused by COVID-19.
What is the Provider Relief Fund?
The Provider Relief Fund (PRF) is a federal program that works on a payment mechanism of direct-to-provider payments. Organizations eligible for funding include those that diagnose, test, or provide medical care to people confirmed to have COVID-19 or those suspected of being infected.
The program aims to ease the financial burdens of healthcare organizations that have experienced reduced income and increased expenses due to the ongoing pandemic. Some providers are granted payments automatically, while others will have to apply for funding.
Why additional funding is necessary
It is hardly any secret that the health care system has labored under the burden of COVID-19 since early 2021. Although the pandemic has seemingly been controlled in some cities, there remains enough of a threat that the national health system is still pushed to capacity. This financial support is therefore invaluable for enabling care organizations to continue operating under the present circumstances.
Payments made under the PRF program
As of Q2 of 2021, the program’s impact was measured at over $119 billion paid out to more than 410,000 different providers all over the country. This amount was disbursed in over 650,000 payments.
Beneficiaries of the PRF program’s general distribution payments include care facilities affiliated with Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. General payments were also granted to some private pay providers and those accepting commercial insurance, such as assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.
The PRF program also grants targeted distribution payments to the following organizations:
- Hospitals servicing high COVID-19 areas
- Rural providers
- Member facilities of the Indian Health Service (IHS)
- Children’s hospitals
- Safety-net hospitals
Skilled nursing care and nursing home infection control facilities are also eligible for targeted distribution payments.
Eligibility for financial assistance from the PRF is subject to certain terms and conditions, including the following:
- The funds paid to providers can be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 cases.
- They could also be used to pay for additional COVID-related expenses and lost revenues due to the pandemic.
- The funds cannot be used for expenses or losses that have already been reimbursed or will be reimbursed.
- The provider and payment information will be included in a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Public Use File (PUF) if the organization has received one or more payments.
The importance of funding for COVID-19 relief
The importance of the PRF was highlighted by Xavier Becerra in a statement released in January 2022. The Secretary of the HHS, Becerra likened the payments to a ‘lifeline’ for care providers in the U.S. By enabling them to recruit new workers and retain existing staff, the funds allowed healthcare organizations to continue delivering medical care to the communities and individuals that need them the most.
Along with the $9 billion released last year, the new round of payments brought the total amount disbursed to $11 billion. But even with more than 74,000 providers having benefited from Phase 4 of the PRF program, criticisms have still been levied at the HHS. For some, the fund release didn’t come soon enough.
Furthermore, many healthcare providers are requesting the federal government to release another $6 million in COVID-relief aid. Some sectors are even lobbying for Congress to authorize another $25 billion in funding.
Brenna Jenny, who is a senior partner at Sidley Austin law firm shared in the frustration that some providers felt. As the principal legal adviser for the HHS’ Provider Relief Fund during the previous administration, Jenny felt that the current administrator took an irrationally long time to distribute payments, even though the funds were already available.
About Caitlin Morgan
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