The federal government has already signed off on nearly $34 billion in advance Medicare payments to providers as part of a program intended to help operators weather temporary financial disruptions amid the spread of COVID-19.
Initially announced on March 28, the Accelerated and Advanced Payment Program has already seen 25,000 applications, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced Tuesday night; about 17,000 of those had already been processed, according to CMS.
That compares to just 100 requests submitted over the last five years, mostly related to natural disasters, CMS noted. Under the expedited coronavirus relief system, the agency claims to have decreased overall processing times from several weeks to four to six days.
“Health care providers are making massive financial sacrifices to care for the influx of coronavirus patients,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. “Many are rightly complying with federal recommendations to delay non-essential elective surgeries to preserve capacity and personal protective equipment. They shouldn’t be penalized for doing the right thing. Amid a public health storm of unprecedented fury, these payments are helping providers and suppliers — so critical to defeating this terrible virus — stay afloat.”
It’s important to note that unlike the Small Business Administration-backed loans introduced under the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed last month, these advances must be repaid under all circumstances, with no potential for forgiveness; CMS will begin using future reimbursements to pay down the advance balance within 120 days of disbursing the money.
Most operators will then have 210 days to fully repay the loans.
CMS also emphasized that the funds are separate from the $100 billion that Congress appropriated to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for general coronavirus relief efforts; HHS will provide updated information about how operators can access that money “in the coming weeks,” according to CMS.