The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has enlisted several firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, to audit billions of dollars sent to healthcare providers during the pandemic.
The $178 billion provider relief program was established by Congress to help hospitals, medical practices and other providers weather the financial difficulties of the pandemic.
The first audits will begin after Sept. 30, the end of the reporting period for providers who received PRF money last spring.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which administers the PRF program, told Modern Healthcare providers who received funding may be required to have an audit performed by an independent auditor, and HHS will also audit a sampling of providers.
Grant Thornton signed a $3 million contract beginning April 21 for audits, assessments and analytical review services of the PRF, according to usaspending.gov.
Creative Solutions Counseling and PricewaterhouseCoopers also signed contracts in April for $730 million and $1.2 million respectively, for auditing and financial review services.
KPMG signed a $3 million contract in March to provide "program integrity" support.
The contracts were first reported by STAT.
The HHS Office of Inspector General also announced recently it would perform its own audit of the program to determine whether payments were correctly calculated, supported by "appropriate and reasonable" documentation and paid to eligible providers.
The Trump administration was criticized for awarding relief funds to wealthy hospitals and systems.
The criteria for receiving funding changed several times throughout the pandemic, frustrating providers.
The American Hospital Association and other provider groups have pushed on HHS to extend the deadlines for when the funding must be spent by providers or returned to the federal government.
Initially, the deadline for spending funds from June 30 for all providers.
HHS recently announced staggered deadlines based on when providers received their funding, with the last deadline being December 31.
Meanwhile, there is still about $24 billion in the fund that hasn't been allocated.
But Acumen LLC was awarded a $9.5 million contract June 18 to develop payment disbursement methodologies and process applications.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and 41 other senators urged HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra this week to distribute the remaining funds expeditiously.
"Regrettably, the PRF funding distribution process has been uneven. Shifting guidance, difficulties in reconciling tax information, the absence of a formal appeals process, and other technical problems have plagued the program," the Senators wrote. "Some providers are still waiting for funding from PRF distributions that were announced last year. Furthermore, plans for additional PRF distributions have been opaque."