WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the country, federal relief efforts directed billions toward hospitals and health clinics.
But providers are now worried they might be asked to return some of that money.
At the time, lawmakers and administration officials were trying to get money out the door as quickly as possible. They wanted to ensure hospitals kept operating with full staffing in the face of the outbreak.
But as time went on, the Department of Health and Human Services adjusted the formula it was using to allocate the money. In some cases that has meant providers receiving less than they expected — and it has left others wondering whether the overpayments from previous allocations will have to be returned.
“There is some concern that they will turn around and say ‘You know what, you’ve got to pay us back this amount,’ ” said Michael Feagler, vice president of finance at the Nebraska Hospital Association.
An early distribution of money in April allocated more than $522 million to health centers in Iowa and Nebraska, according to a pair of Midlands House members who are working across the aisle — and the Missouri River — to ensure the government won’t come seeking repayment.
Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, recently sent a letter to officials at the Department of Health and Human Services laying out the problem.
They wrote that providers had been assured the money was for immediate financial relief and are now in limbo wondering how much they will owe and when they will owe it.
“Our health providers are being held responsible for a decision made by HHS that was entirely out of their control,” they wrote.
They noted that providers are caring for COVID-19 patients while paying for expensive personal protective equipment, testing supplies and overtime pay.
“We applaud HHS quick action to get funding to our health providers, but our hospitals and health care providers should not have to return relief funds due to the department’s change in methodology,” they wrote.
Nathan Baugh, director of government affairs at the National Association of Rural Health Clinics, echoed those points in a press release about the impact on rural health care.
“Rural providers need to focus on providing care during this pandemic,” Baugh said. “They shouldn’t have to worry about paying CARES Act money back because the government’s formulas were changed after the fact.”
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