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On Wednesday, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) joined Reps. Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks, (IA-02) to introduce bipartisan legislation that would ensure remaining Provider Relief Fund (PRF) dollars are distributed to healthcare providers seeking to protect their workforce and patients from recent COVID-19 surges.

In March 2020, Congress created the PRF as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to reimburse healthcare providers for expenses or lost revenues attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, Congress has appropriated $178 billion for the PRF.

However, the PRF distribution process has been plagued by several issues that have slowed distribution — including changing guidance, confusing tax information, burdensome restrictions, and sporadic technical problems. To date, no PRF dollars have been released to compensate providers for expenses associated with the Delta Variant surge over the summer. Meanwhile,  frontline health care workers are struggling with a troubling increase in violence in the workplace, contributing to lower morale and leading to high turnover rates and additional expenses for employers looking to keep their workers safe.

In response to these delays and the tremendous uncertainty providers report about the future of relief from the program, the Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act would require HHS to distribute remaining PRF dollars by March 31, 2022, relieve the bureaucratic burdens associated with shifting reporting deadlines, and allow PRF recipients to spend their awards on investments in workplace and employee safety. These provisions would give much-needed certainty to U.S. healthcare providers about forthcoming distribution timelines and give providers renewed flexibility in how they use this funding.

“Since voting to establish the Provider Relief Fund last year, I’ve consistently been advocating for making sure this assistance is working to support our health care providers in curbing this pandemic. I’m pleased that HHS is currently working to get $17 billion in PRF assistance out the door. However, I believe more must be done ensure those working every day against COVID-19 are prepared to treat cases and accommodate patients,” said Rep. Axne. “I’m glad to be joining this bipartisan effort to ensure hospitals have the funds to protect their workers, treat patients, and prepare for the potential rise in hospitalizations stemming from the flu and COVID-19 this winter.”

“The dedicated men and women of our nation’s hospitals and clinics have worked around the clock for nearly two years to battle COVID-19 and keep patients safe. In Central Virginia, their tireless efforts have been nothing short of heroic. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to rage in many corners of America, and delays in much-needed Provider Relief Fund payments are causing tremendous uncertainty in Virginia and across the country,” said Rep. Spanberger. “Our bipartisan bill reflects the urgency of the need to protect our healthcare workers. Not only would our bipartisan bill give additional certainty to healthcare institutions, but it would cut red tape and eliminate arbitrary restrictions on how providers can put this funding to good use. By providing a new degree of flexibility and peace of mind, the Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act would make commonsense reforms and help ensure the long-term strength of Central Virginia’s healthcare facilities and their employees.”

“Since the onset of the pandemic, our nation’s healthcare providers have been gripped with significant financial shortfalls as they work tirelessly to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 and address the needs of our communities,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “Because of the slow pace of administrative action associated with the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), healthcare providers have had zero access to any funding to directly offset the costs associated with the recent delta variant surge. Our bipartisan bill would give healthcare providers the financial relief they need to end this pandemic and continue their delivery of world-class care.”

“We must ensure that providers have all of the tools at their disposal to keep Americans healthy. Having the flexibility necessary to use all of the COVID-19 relief funds made available to them is a critical part of this goal,” said Rep. Miller-Meeks. “I have thanked HHS previously for choosing to extend the deadline for providers to use Provider Relief Funds, and now I am asking them to do it again. I look forward to working with my colleagues to see this legislation become law to better support our healthcare system as a whole.”

The Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act is endorsed by the American Hospital Association, National Rural Health Association, Argentum, America’s Essential Hospitals, and Medical Group Management Association.

“The Provider Relief Fund has been a life-line to hospitals, health systems and caregivers across the country, helping to keep our doors open during the pandemic in order to continue providing essential care to patients and communities,” said Stacey Hughes, Executive Vice President, American Hospital Association. “The AHA thanks Representatives Spanberger, Axne, Gonzalez and Miller-Meeks for leading this important bipartisan effort to extend the deadline for hospitals and other health care providers to use this funding and to distribute the remaining funds as soon as possible. These actions will help ensure we can continue to battle COVID-19 and save lives.”

“The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) applauds Representative Spanberger for introducing the Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act,” said Alan Morgan, CEO, National Rural Health Association. “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) program has been a lifeline for health care providers. However, the program’s supporting materials and deadlines have caused unnecessary problems for rural providers. NRHA strongly believes Congress created the program to help rural providers combat COVID-19, protect their workforce, and ensure access to care for their patients – not to return funds to the Treasury Department. The Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act will ensure rural providers can use the funds they were allocated to serve their communities for the remainder of the pandemic.”

Specifically, the bipartisan Provider Relief Fund Improvement Act would:

  • Extend the deadline for Providers to use their awards through the end of the Public Health Emergency. The legislation would eliminate the bureaucratic hassle of funds going back and forth between the government and providers at quarterly reporting deadlines.
  • Require HHS to refund to providers any dollars returned to HHS at the first June 30, 2021 reporting deadline.
  • Require HHS to distribute remaining PRF dollars by March 31, 2022.
  • Clarify that providers can use PRF funds for workplace and safety provisions. This guidance would include secure locks, mitigation of risk of violence mechanisms like panic buttons, and trauma support for personnel.

Click here to read the full bill text, and click here for a one-pager on the bill.

Author: Press Release