HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday said the agency is considering extending the deadline that providers have to spend relief funds by but did not provide a timeline of when more aid might be delivered.
Provider Relief Funds must be spent by June 30 or returned to the federal government but the American Hospital Association (AHA) and some lawmakers have called on HHS to extend that deadline through at least the end of the year.
"Some folks have asked for an extension. We're looking at all that very, very closely," Becerra said at an Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on the HHS budget request. "What I will tell you is again, we'll be driven by facts in this case to make sure providers who have a need get those needs addressed."
Providers have also anxiously awaited the disbursement of the remaining $33 billion in the fund, which is intended to help providers weather the financial pains of the pandemic.
Becerra didn't offer a timeline for when the funding will be awarded, or to what specific types of providers, although Congress appropriated another $8.5 billion for rural providers earlier this year. The last disbursement from the fund was in in December.
"We'll make sure we can dispense it in a way that's not only accountable but it goes to those who need it most," Becerra said. "We're going to demand accountability and transparency."
He later added under questioning from Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) that safety-net hospitals and other front line providers should not be allowed to "fall through the cracks."
"Those safety-net hospitals on the front-line deserve our attention," he said.
Nearly $178 billion in provider relief funding has already been spent under President Trump but some have questioned whether it has been spent wisely.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) argued Wednesday that the Trump administration didn't use the funding for providers who had the "greatest need" and urged Becerra to make changes.
"This Provider Relief Fund ensures front-line workers can keep their doors open during this time, it's just imperative funds go to those who need it the most," Pallone said.
Some richer hospital facilities and health systems that received funding made profits last year, concerning some members of Congress, but other rural and safety-net providers argue they still need help, with non-COVID visits still not back to pre-pandemic levels in some cases.
"Under my leadership, I hope you'll see HHS trying to do right by all those who stepped up to the plate - those safety net providers and that we're doing the right thing with the Provider Relief Fund," Becerra told lawmakers.
"That's why accountability and transparency will be so important as we disperse those final tranches of dollars."