Skilled nursing facilities should have the advantage against other healthcare providers in getting much needed additional COVID-19 relief funds being made available by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

HHS on Friday announced that starting Sept. 29 it’s making $25.5 billion in new money from the Provider Relief Fund available to healthcare providers affected by the pandemic. The funding includes $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan resources for providers who serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program or Medicare patients, and an additional $17 billion for Provider Relief Fund Phase 4 for providers who can document revenue loss and expenses associated with the pandemic.

Jay Gormley

“The emphasis on Medicaid and Medicare providers and the smaller scale providers gives a needed influx of assistance to the SNF industry,” said Jay Gormley, chief investment officer and COO, advisory, at Zimmet Healthcare Services Group.

He explained that by pricing Medicaid and CHIP claims data at Medicare rates “HHS will give SNFs a leg up in the calculation against providers that serve a more commercial population.” 

“This will also benefit the rural SNFs in their targeted distribution,” he told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Friday. “In this instance, the wide gap between our Medicare and Medicaid rates will be a positive for the purposes of calculating targeted funds.” 

The Phase 4 PRF payments will be based on lost revenues and expenditures between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. HHS added that the Phase 4 payments will also reimburse smaller providers for their lost revenues and increased expenses at a higher rate compared to larger providers. Phase 4 will also include bonus payments for providers who serve Medicaid and Medicare patients, like nursing homes, and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients. 

The department “will price these bonus payments at the generally higher Medicare rates to ensure equity for those serving low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and seniors.” 

“For the basic provider, this payment gives them at least some help in covering the high fixed costs and higher operating cost associated with the pandemic,” Gormley said. 

He added that based on previous funding rounds, they learned that “the earlier the better” it is for providers to file their information. 

“We would encourage providers to start submitting information as soon as they can to the portal once it opens on September 29th,” he advised. 

Jennifer Boese

Jennifer Boese, director of healthcare policy at CLA, explained the money can go a long way toward offsetting lost revenue, assisting with ongoing staffing needs — such as recruiting new hires, paying for temporary workers and wage increases for current employees — and purchasing necessary supplies or resources during the pandemic.

She also advised that providers continue to inventory and organize their COVID expenses and lost revenues, gather all of their information and be prepared in advance of the application better so they can complete it as early as possible. 

“To assist timely payment, submit information in an organized, logical, and understandable fashion that makes sense and is easy to follow ― in other words, keep it simple and clean,” Boese told McKnight’s on Friday. “Preparation, accuracy, and clarity are the best ways to accommodate a timely and accurate payment from HHS.”