In an October 6 letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, WHA partnered with the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) to express concerns over recent changes to the federal guidance governing how hospitals can use funding received from the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) authorized by the CARES Act. WHA also held a member webinar with corporate member Husch Blackwell covering this guidance. WHA members can view the webinar on WHA’s on demand learning center.
At issue is guidance released on September 19 that significantly changed the definition of lost revenue. Prior to this change, the CARES Act and HHS guidance allowed a much broader definition of lost revenue, which essentially allowed hospitals to use the funding for any health care revenue lost due to coronavirus. WHA previously estimated Wisconsin hospitals and health systems lost around $2.5 billion statewide from the pause in elective procedures early in the pandemic and has estimated they have received about $1.1 billion in PRF funds. The change in guidance, however, redefined lost revenue to mean something closer to a change in a hospital’s operating margin.
The change in guidance has created significant confusion and uncertainty over how hospitals will be able to spend COVID relief dollars. In the letter, WHA and RWHC noted that hospitals were led to understand both by a plain reading of the statute and initial guidance from HHS that lost revenue would be just that. However, as both noted in the letter, “All too often, our members make the best financial decisions they can with the information at hand only to have the rug swept out from under them as rules change midstream. This is unfortunately another example of that." The letter requests that HHS revert back to the former definition of lost revenue, which is more in line with the federal statute and Congress’ original intent for these funds.
WHA has raised this issue with Wisconsin’s Congressional Delegation and is continuing to ask for their support in ensuring HHS allows hospitals to use these funds in a way that is consistent with Congressional intent.
For more information, contact WHA’s VP of Federal and State Relations, Jon Hoelter.