HHS to Release $2.5B in Nursing Home COVID Relief This Week

As the federal government moves to mandate more frequent COVID-19 testing in nursing homes, half of the latest tranche of $5 billion in relief will be sent to facilities this week, the White House announced late Tuesday.

“The first $2.5 billion of these funds will be distributed this week to help many nursing homes cover expenses related to testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing, and training,” the Trump administration disclosed in a statement.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initially announced the distribution earlier this month, marking the second skilled nursing-specific release from the CARES Act; HHS in May allocated $4.9 billion for nursing facilities, on top of several other distributions targeted at all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified health care providers.

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The initial $2.5 billion will appear in providers’ bank accounts with no application or pre-approval process, according to American Health Care Association (AHCA) CEO Mark Parkinson.

“You’re going to show up one morning and you’re going to see some funds that hit your account,” Parkinson said during a virtual panel discussion earlier in August. “The money is for PPE, testing, and staffing. You get to decide what you want to spend the money on. It’s your decision.”

The exact amount per nursing home will depend on a variety of factors, including the number of beds; the average facility will take in about $90,000 to $170,000, according to Parkinson.

Most of the remaining $2.5 billion will be subject to a kind of value-based competition in which operators stand to receive more cash by successfully curbing new COVID-19 infections, among other mechanisms, Parkinson said.

“They’re trying to incentivize us to do everything that we can to keep COVID out of the buildings,” he said. “I know we already are, but they believe that this program will further amp up our efforts.”

The White House announcement comes as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled sweeping new testing rules for nursing facilities, making routine testing of staff a requirement of participation in Medicare and Medicaid, and requiring operators to test residents when they display symptoms or when there’s confirmation of an outbreak.

CMS pointed to the availability of CARES Act funding to cover the elevated testing costs in its announcement; while HHS and CMS have teamed up to send point-of-care antigen testing units to most nursing facilities in the country, operators will be on their own to purchase repeat testing supplies after receiving an initial shipment.

CMS administrator Seema Verma explicitly credited President Trump in the development of the new regulations.

“The provisions in today’s rule on nursing homes represent his expectation that CMS pull every available regulatory lever to maximize nursing home residents’ safety and quality of life,” Verma said in the statement. “These Americans and their families, who have already gone through so much, deserve nothing less.”

The White House announcement also included concrete details about the frequency of required employee testing, which CMS on Tuesday indicated would be subject to pending guidance.

“Testing will occur twice a week, weekly, or monthly, depending on local factors such as an individual facility’s risk for COVID-19 transmission,” the administration said.

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