The proposed HEALS Act currently before Congress would allocate an additional $25 billion to the Provider Relief Fund, a program that moves federal dollars to health care organizations struggling with the fallout of the pandemic, including hospices.
The full price tag for the legislation could reach more than $1 trillion, though congressional negotiations are ongoing. As currently written, the bill would contain $78.1 billion for public health and social services, including the relief funds.
While hospice providers welcome the assistance, some in the space believe that the dollar amount is insufficient to meet current needs.
“The Provider Relief Fund has been a lifesaver for many hospices and home health agencies. While there remains some funds available, it is clear that even more will be needed to bring stability to many health care sectors,” said Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, told Hospice News..” The addition of $25 billion as proposed in HEALS is a good start. However, more is needed and we hope that the Congress quickly provides the increase of $100 billion that the House has passed.”
Lawmakers have been struggling to reconcile the House and Senate versions of relief legislation, with partisan wrangling slowing the bill’s progress. Democrats and Republicans have not budged thus far in disagreements about provisions such as extending increased unemployment benefits.
The amount of provider relief funds that would go to hospices as opposed to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and other settings remains uncertain. Previous relief legislation, the CARES Act passed in April, earmarked $100 billion for the fund. Of the first $30 billion dollars the government distributed, about $1 billion was set aside for hospice providers.
Bout 60% of respondents to a NAHC survey earlier this year said they expected their annual revenues to take a significant hit due to the coronavirus outbreak. Among the contributing factors to revenue drops is a decline in hospice patient admissions and referrals amid the public health emergency, as well as increased paid leave and paid time off for staff and skyrocketing costs for personal protective equipment and supplies.
As these challenges mount, industry stakeholders have called on the U.S. Department Health & Human Services to designate a portion of the funds specifically for hospices, including the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization.
“We are very supportive of Congress wanting to dedicate HEALS Act resources for testing and in fact we are hopeful that HHS dedicates existing Provider Relief Funding or a portion of the $16b for COVID-19 testing that the HEALS Act calls for dedicated testing for hospice providers,” the NHPCO said in a statement to Hospice News. “We sent a letter to HHS and CMS earlier this week on this issue (attached). The administration has a track record of dedicating Provider Relief Funding for testing and developed a similar program for a similarly vulnerable patient population in nursing homes earlier this month.”