By James Balda
May 12, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
When the United States dedicated unprecedented sums to fight World War II, Harry Truman used his platform in Congress to ensure the money was being spent properly. We are now spending trillions of dollars to combat the impact of COVID-19 and members of Congress should follow Truman’s example to ensure the money is quickly getting where it’s needed most. They can start today.
In March 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act, which includes $178 billion in a Provider Relief Fund to assist front-line health care operators and caregivers. Far too little of that relief has been distributed to the providers who care for some of our nation’s most vulnerable and the House Energy & Commerce Committee has an opportunity this morning to find out how this can be corrected.
Although the pandemic has struck hard across the country, it is clear that our nation’s seniors have faced the greatest threat of death and serious illness from COVID-19. Among them, residents of assisted living facilities have been at highest risk because of their average age – 85 – and the fact that so many live with multiple chronic conditions and require direct care. As a result, the facilities and individuals who care for them have shouldered some of the heaviest costs.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, assisted living care providers have absorbed nearly $15 billion in unanticipated expenses resulting from the steps they took to protect their residents – additional personal protective equipment, enhanced infection prevention and control measures and support measures for their own employees such as hero pay. These costs were combined with steep, growing and unsustainable revenue loss due to the necessary slowdown of incoming residents due to COVID concerns.
These caregivers did everything right — they followed CDC’s guidelines, purchased supplies on their own and worked to get their residents vaccinated – but have received little or no financial relief. According to a Dec. 31, 2020, Government Accountability Office Report, assisted-living providers received less than a half of 1 percent of the PRF. This distribution is far less than any other long-term care provider.
Now, without funding from the dwindling amounts left in the PRF, many assisted-living providers, Alzheimer’s/memory care providers, and senior congregate care facilities simply will not be able to sustain operations. While both the Trump and Biden administrations have worked to disburse PRF money, Congress likely intended that money to be spent more quickly and better targeted toward front-line caregivers for vulnerable populations.
Members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee should press Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra for answers about why targeted PRF disbursements have not been provided to assisted-living caregivers. Additionally, lags in payments and denials of claims are common. Congress should ask the HHS secretary for greater transparency and push for an appeals process to allow claims that may have been underpaid or denied, an opportunity to be corrected.
Immediate attention to these caregivers and the seniors that they serve is critical. Currently 60 percent of those providers say they will not be able to sustain operations for another year without assistance, setting up a massive threat to our nation’s senior care system without a fairer distribution of PRF funds. If Congress cannot work with the Biden administration to get PRF money moving more quickly and equitably, the results could be dire: the loss of home and caregivers for millions of Americans.
Congress has made its intent clear: It provided billions of dollars in aid to ensure that these essential facilities can continue to protect their residents and staff, and serve our nation’s most vulnerable population. It’s time for Congress to pick up Truman’s mantle by asking Becerra what the Biden administration is doing to distribute the money Congress provided fast and fairly. The well-being of millions of American seniors depends on swift action.
James Balda is president and CEO of Argentum, the national association supporting companies that operate professionally managed, resident-centered senior living communities.
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