Nursing homes that rely primarily on Medicaid funding were largely shut out of the first round of coronavirus stimulus money set aside for health care providers — and while the federal government has promised that help is on the way, a group of 27 U.S. senators wants faster action.
Led by Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, the mostly Republican signatories to an April 16 letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar asked the government not to forget long-term care facilities in its health care relief efforts.
“As you know, our nursing homes and senior living facilities are experiencing serious shortages of needed staffing and protective equipment during the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Perdue and the other senators wrote. “Significant investment is needed to stave off both of these shortages.”
The $2 trillion CARES Act, passed last month, included $100 billion for health care providers in a dedicated program known as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF).
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the first tranche of $30 billion from that fund last week, sending money directly to a wide swath of Medicare-funded health care providers.
That cash injection was based on the amount of fee-for-service Medicare payments operators had received in 2019, bringing an estimated $1.5 billion in relief for some skilled nursing facilities — but shutting out the significant numbers of properties that take in most of their income from Medicaid, which covers more than 60% of the nation’s nursing home residents.
CMS administrator Seema Verma promised that Medicaid relief would come in the second release from the $100 billion fund, but so far, there’s no timeline for future payments.
Even the initial round of Medicare funding brought headaches for operators: Many awoke to find the cash already in their accounts with no advance warning, and despite Verma’s description of the grants as coming with “no strings attached,” providers must agree to a variety of terms or face the prospect of sending the money back.
Writing to Azar, the senators noted that nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) have climbed in some cases by more than 6,000%, and the death toll at long-term care facilities continues to rise at an alarming speed.
“We are hearing from providers in our respective states that they are unable to order basic medical supplies, including but not limited to protective masks, gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, and face shields,” the senators wrote. “We must ensure these supplies are flowing to the providers who are on the front lines of caring for some of our nation’s most vulnerable — our seniors.”
Aside from Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Tom Carper of Delaware, the remaining signatories to the letter were Republicans.