By Gary D. Alexander
August 26, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
In March 2020, when President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act into law, caregivers, hospitals and providers breathed a sigh of relief that the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill would help the country get through the COVID-19 public health crisis. The CARES Act distributed $178 billion to the hospitals and health care providers under the Provider Relief Fund who were tirelessly working to save the lives of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, congressional lawmakers are about to pull out the rug from under the hospitals by taking away dollars allocated to the fund to pay for its infrastructure bill.
The PRF has served as a lifeline for hospitals and health care facilities that have been fighting to keep the lights on and doors open at a time when Americans need health care the most. COVID-19 hurt every industry, but doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were hit the hardest; dealing with a giant increase in demand and decrease in supplies. Hospital workers have been true, unwavering heroes.
While in some cases we have come a long way since March 2020, we are not out of the woods yet and hospitals still need government help. COVID-19 continues to ravage the health care industry unlike any other. Not only are the effects still continuing, but with the rise in the delta variant and a surge in cases, hospitals need our support more than ever. Let’s remember that at the peak of COVID-19, over 3,300 people died on average each day, and as of July 22, 35 percent of U.S. counties are experiencing high levels of community transmission.
According to the CDC, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in nearly 90 percent of U.S. jurisdictions. Between August 2020 and July 26, 2021, there have been over 2.3 million total hospital admissions due to COVID-19, and the current weekly average is 5,186 admissions. In October 2020, Becker’s Healthcare reported at least 47 U.S. hospitals had closed or entered bankruptcy since Jan. 1, 2020. Back in 2020, some estimates uncovered hospitals were losing more than a billion dollars per day as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Congress to rescind emergency funding from the PRF and reallocate it to the infrastructure bill, would be a huge mistake. According to a Kaufman Hall report, hospitals could lose between $53 billion and $122 billion due to the lingering effects of COVID-19. Making matters worse is those projections were from February, before the summer surge, and the actual losses are now likely much higher.
Stephen Klasko, the CEO of Jefferson Health noted that the places that will lose the most revenue are “the ones that did everything right. They stopped elective surgery earlier in the spring; they paid for the inflated costs of medical supplies for their staff and rolled out testing as soon as they could.”
Many hospitals have not yet even received their funds because of the governments’ inability to grant them eligibility. Taking these funds away would result in even more hospital closures and dying patients. According to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, 25 percent of PRF appropriations (or $43.7 billion) remains “unobligated,” in other words the money has yet to be used for its original purpose.
Responding to this, organizations that serve vulnerable and aging Americans sent a letter to leaders in Congress urging them not to repurpose the relief funds. In the letter, they state: “As you know, long-term care providers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, caring for those most vulnerable to this virus. In doing so, they have incurred tens of billions of dollars in expenses and losses due to PPE, staffing needs, overtime and incentive pay, and record-low occupancy rates that continue to compound. While the Provider Relief Fund has helped offset some of these losses, more is critically needed to ensure caregivers have the financial resources to continue serving our nation’s most vulnerable seniors.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that private insurers are now planning to no longer waive cost-sharing requirements for patients admitted into hospitals for COVID treatment. So, between the lack of support from the government, loss of revenue generated from non-COVID treatments, and now insurers placing the cost of care onto patients, regardless of their ability to pay, many hospitals are sure to face a financial crisis.
Health care workers have seen us through one catastrophe after another. Many hospitals have not survived this COVID crisis and their communities are paying the price. Hospitals are always there for us at our most desperate hour. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from underneath their feet to fuel another project that will not help America if we do not defeat this pandemic. Further, if our hospitals aren’t strong, the economy will never fully recover.
Gary D. Alexander served as Rhode Island’s Health and Human Services secretary from 2006-2011 and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Human Services secretary from 2011-2013.
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