Physician Practices Demand More from Provider Relief Fund
Future distributions of Provider Relief Fund should prioritize allocation to physician practices struggling with the financial consequences of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, rather than just hospitals, physician groups are urging lawmakers.
Where is the Focus?
Physicians practicing outside of the hospital systems in the country have already invested thousands of dollars in infrastructure to support telehealth services, as well as COVID-19 testing and vaccination throughout the pandemic. However, independent physicians were not in the focus during previous distributions of dollars through the Provider Relief Fund, which, instead, focused mostly on the hospitals.
The Provider Relief Fund
Signed into law in March 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act established the Provider Relief Fund. The Fund includes $178B meant to distribute by HHS directly to the healthcare providers who have experienced lost revenues and added costs due to the pandemic.
HHS has already distributed around $148.4B to providers through general and targeted allocations. An analysis revealed that most of the funds went to hospitals with more private payer revenue and larger operating margins.
Impact of the Pandemic on Physician Practices
However, independent physician practices have also suffered heavy financial losses throughout the pandemic. According to a recent study, the number of visits for all specialties has decreased by as much as 7 percent. Specialty care providers including pediatricians, physical therapists, and surgical specialists witnessed the maximum impact.
In addition to the above, chronic Medicare patient visits in both fee-for-service and Medicare Advantage are down by almost 17 percent, compared to the baseline.
A Suggested Way Out
Experts suggest that extending Provider Relief Fund money towards the physicians and non-hospital-based practices will also help offset the additional costs of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations along with reduced patient volumes.
In addition to more targeted funding, experts have also asked Congress to consider the extension of temporary suspension of the 2 percent Medicare sequester. It will further support the practices.