On May 29, and June 2, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated its “Provider Relief Fund FAQs” on disbursements made to providers from the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund initially established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, for expenses and lost revenues attributable to the coronavirus pandemic. HHS’s updated guidance includes helpful details on the types of coronavirus-related costs and lost revenues for which providers may use Provider Relief Fund disbursements. But the updates also reemphasizes that “HHS will have significant anti-fraud monitoring of the funds distributed, and the Office of Inspector General will provide oversight … to ensure that Federal dollars are used appropriately.” HHS will soon be examining the first batch of quarterly reports on use of funds, due by July 10, from providers that received over $150,000 of CARES Act funding. And HHS isn’t the only one watching, as the media and Congress have already questioned the methodology behind the $77 billion in disbursements HHS has made thus far.
Given this environment of heightened scrutiny, hospitals and providers should strive to rigorously monitor and account for their proper receipt and use of the Provider Relief Fund payments. While pandemic-related losses and expenses likely dwarf total payments so far (e.g., total losses through July are estimated to top $200 billion), some areas of caution include identifying where potentially overlapping funding sources might be available and HHS’s ban on balance billing for coronavirus-related care. As with any other important task, an ounce of prevention in using and documenting Provider Relief Fund payments will be worth a pound when trying to cure any agency or committee investigation. Continue Reading