A bipartisan group of four prominent congressional leaders asked HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday to quickly send more provider relief grant money to providers that serve large shares of Medicaid patients.
Congress allowed HHS to distribute $175 billion in grants meant to help providers compensate for lost revenue and coronavirus-related expenses, but the agency has only sent out around $77 billion more than nine weeks after the fund was initially created. Providers such as pediatricians and OB-GYNs that only serve Medicaid patients have been largely left out of funding distributions, and providers that serve large Medicaid populations have been proportionally disadvantaged by the payment formulas.
Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), House Energy & Commerce Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and House Energy & Commerce ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) signed the letter expressing concern about the delay in sending funds to Medicaid providers.
"Many of these providers are safety-net providers that operate on thin profit margins, if at all. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained their already scarce resources, threatening their ability to keep their doors open in the midst of a declared public health emergency," the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers acknowledged federal data limitations for Medicaid providers, but called for grants to be distributed to prevent "financial insolvency" for safety-net providers.
America's Essential Hospitals President and CEO Bruce Siegel thanked the lawmakers for their letter and reiterated concerns about the fairness of the distribution formulas.
"Emergency aid allocations so far have disadvantaged essential hospitals. New distributions must target hospitals that care for many Medicaid patients," Siegel said in a statement.
HHS started sending out money to Medicare providers two weeks after the fund's creation on March 27, but did not ask states to send in provider-level payment data until May 1, as Modern Healthcare first reported.
HHS hasn't made its definition clear for a Medicaid-specific grant tranche yet, but there's a chance providers that accept a small number of Medicare patients won't be eligible for any more money.