Providers that received HHS COVID-19 relief funds would get until the end of the year or the end public health emergency to spend that money under a bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday.
Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) authored the legislation following HHS' decision to require some healthcare providers to spend their relief dollars by June 30.
The American Hospital Association and other groups object to that pending deadline on the grounds that the pandemic is still having a negative financial impact on providers.
"This public health emergency has strained every level of America's healthcare system, and it's not over yet," Bennet said in a news release. "We need to extend the payback deadline to ensure hospitals and providers can adequately serve their communities as we work to bring this pandemic to an end."
The senators debuted their bill as COVID-19 infections are surging, largely to due to the highly infectious Delta variant and to low vaccination rates in many states. Thirty-five percent of U.S. counties are suffering high levels of community transmission, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data as of July 22.
Congress and President Donald Trump enacted the Provider Relief Fund last year to help providers weather the pandemic. Congress authorized $178 billion for the temporary program, but HHS has yet to distribute $43 billion of it.
HHS is requiring providers that got relief last spring to spend the money by June 30 and return any unused funds after that data.