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News | Coronavirus

Healthcare News of Note: Trump administration diverted nearly $10 billion in funds slated for hospitals to Operation Warp Speed

News | Coronavirus

Healthcare News of Note: Trump administration diverted nearly $10 billion in funds slated for hospitals to Operation Warp Speed

  • The Trump administration quietly took about $10 billion from a fund meant to help hospitals and healthcare providers affected by COVID-19 and used the money to bankroll Operation Warp Speed contracts.
  • On March 2, Rep. Anna Eshoo, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chair, said it's time to make permanent telehealth flexibilities pushed through for Medicare during the pandemic.
  • The past year has been ripe with antitrust activity in the healthcare sector, with ripple effects likely to spill into the near future and beyond.

1. Funds meant for healthcare organizations that are under stress due to COVID-19 were used to finance Operation Warp Speed

A March 2 article in STAT reports, “The Trump administration quietly took around $10 billion from a fund [the Provider Relief Fund] meant to help hospitals and health care providers affected by Covid-19 and used the money to bankroll Operation Warp Speed contracts, four former Trump administration officials told STAT.”

“The Department of Health and Human Services appears to have used a financial maneuver that allowed officials to spend the money without telling Congress, and the agency got permission from its top lawyer to do so,” wrote Rachel Cohrs, a Washington correspondent for STAT. “Now, the Biden administration is refusing to say whether the outlay means there will be less money available for hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, and other providers.

“Several provider groups said they had not heard that $10 billion for providers was spent on Warp Speed contracts until STAT’s reporting. Congress set aside that money to help health care providers pay for pandemic-related expenses including staffing, personal protective equipment, care for uninsured patients, and vaccine distribution.”

2. Some lawmakers say Medicare telehealth flexibilities should continue post-pandemic

A March 2 Modern Healthcare article states, “House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee chair Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said it's time to make telehealth flexibilities pushed through for Medicare during the COVID-19 pandemic permanent, calling many of the payment policies CMS waived amid the public health emergency ‘outdated.’”

“Once the COVID-19 public health emergency period comes to an end, Medicare's list of covered telehealth services will only apply to patients living in rural areas and largely won't allow patients to continue accessing telehealth from home, due to restrictions in the Social Security Act,” wrote Jessica Kim Cohen, a Modern Healthcare reporter. “Addressing those restrictions requires action from Congress, not CMS.

“Dr. Jack Resneck, Jr., a member of the American Medical Association's board of trustees and a witness at the hearing, asked Congress to remove those Medicare restrictions and to expand broadband access to underserved communities.”

Some lawmakers want to move forward more cautiously with telehealth expansion, citing “the need to consider what medical conditions or specialties are a best fit for telehealth, ways to combat fraud and abuse, and whether lack of access to technology and high-speed internet in certain populations will add to health disparities,” according to the article.

Frederic Riccardi, president of the Medicare Rights Center, suggested that “Congress implement a ‘glide path,’ so that telehealth flexibilities don't abruptly end with the public health emergency but aren't immediately made permanent,” the article states.

3. Healthcare antitrust issues to keep an eye on

“The past year has been ripe with antitrust activity in the health sector, with ripple effects likely to spill into the near future and beyond,” a March 1 Healthcare Dive article states.

“The Federal Trade Commission is poised to get even more aggressive in enforcement against anticompetitive deals in the years to come, legal experts told Healthcare Dive, while state legislatures are eyeing ways to increase scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions in their own backyards,” wrote author Samantha Liss.

“The FTC said last year it was expanding a program that helps it police future and already-consummated deals,” the article continues. “And just last year the agency made its first challenge to a hospital tie-up after a three-year lull.”

The article also reviewed the antitrust focus of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), saying, “Even though HHS does not have jurisdiction over mergers and acquisitions, [Becerra] would likely be sensitive to the competitive implications of any rules the agencies he oversees may implement if his nomination is approved, some legal experts said.”

HFMA bonus content

1. The digital issue of March hfm is now available to members. Articles in this issue include:

2. HFMA’s Revenue Cycle: Re-engage Consumers and Improve Performance + Price Transparency Preconference continues throughout March. Read the details of what event attendees can expect during the next several sessions.

About the Author

Deborah Filipek

is a senior editor with HFMA, Westchester, Ill. 

Sign up for a free guest account and get access to five free articles every month.

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