COVID-19 Reading and Resources: April 14, 2020

In this week’s COVID-19 Reading and Resources: CARES Act funding is flowing to both the relief and frustration of health care providers; rural hospitals and ACOs face new, perhaps unbearable risk as a result of COVID-19; CMS provides new flexibilities; and strategies of hospitals and health systems as they battle PPE shortages.

Posted by: Dana Coleman, Vice President

COVID-19 Telehealth Program Portal Now Open

The application portal is now open for $200 million in telehealth program funding through the Federal Communications Commission. This Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” Act funding was allocated to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients in response to the pandemic. For eligible health care providers, it will fund telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services until the funds are expended or the pandemic has ended. View a webinar on the application process here.

CARES Act Relief for Providers

Eligible health care providers are already receiving distributions from the $30 billion in relief funds provided by the CARES Act. These are payments, not loans, and will not need to be repaid. Check out the HHS Provider Relieve page to learn who’s eligible and the terms and conditions. Payments are determined based on Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement in 2019. HHS provides as an example a community hospital that billed Medicare FFS $121 million in 2019 would be eligible for a distribution of $7.5 million.

Coronavirus Burden Not a Factor in Distribution

Despite the ongoing allocation of CARES Act funds, policymakers are under fire for basing the distributions on Medicare billings rather than the burden of hospitals in dealing with the coronavirus. A Kaiser Health News analysis predicts states touched only lightly by the pandemic are receiving more than $300,000 per reported COVID-19 case compared to New York, the worst-hit state, which would receive only $12,000 per case. How is your state predicted to fare?

Rural Hospitals at Particular Risk

As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens operating margins of hospitals across the country, the Guidehouse 2020 Rural Hospital Sustainability Index predicts more than 350 rural hospitals across 40 states are at high risk, particularly in the South. Tennessee leads the list of states with the highest percentage of rural hospitals at high financial risk at 19, or 68% of its rural hospitals.

Pandemic Too Much for Risk-Bearing ACOs?

Modern Healthcare reports that at least 56% of accountable care organizations that take on downside risk are considering quitting the Medicare Shared Savings Program to avoid financial losses from the pandemic. While some relief has been provided to ACOs, 10 provider organizations are urging Congress and CMS to shield value-based payment models from financial penalties because of costs incurred responding to the pandemic.

CMS Provides New Flexibility

CMS unveiled several broad but temporary changes that provide flexibilities for hospitals, physicians and other health care organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn the key takeaways from the rules in Becker’s Hospital Review.

Back on the Front Line

From The Advisory Board, read strategies U.S. hospitals and health systems are using to disinfect, reuse and create their own PPE as a last resort. The ideas range from utilizing UV light or a biocontainment lab to a pilot project to create a low-cost respirator mask alternative from an anesthesia mask.