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Maryland Delegation Urges HHS to Provide Emergency COVID-19 Funds to Hospitals, Health Care Providers, and Entities that Need Them Most

Apr 14, 2020
Press Release
Members Ask for Consideration of COVID-19 Costs and Transparency in Release of Future Funds

WASHINGTON – The full Maryland congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Andy Harris, M.D., Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin and David Trone, today sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar urging him to target future monies from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) toward Maryland hospitals, health care providers, and other health care entities that need them most. These funds will help Maryland providers acquire crucial resources including COVID-19 testing supplies, personal protective equipment, and other medical equipment and supplies. As the Members note, this letter comes as Maryland, and in particular, the Baltimore-Washington Corridor, has been declared an emerging hotspot by the federal government.

The Members write, “we strongly urge you to ensure that all health care entities impacted by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) are able to benefit from these funds with a particular focus on areas hardest hit by this outbreak, as well as rural and underserved areas. Additionally, we believe it is imperative that your department provides maximum transparency around how these funds are being disbursed and which entities are receiving them.”

They highlight how this issue is impacting Maryland, saying, “We have been hearing from hospitals, health care providers, and other health care entities across our state about the significant costs they have been incurring since COVID-19 materialized as a threat. Many have seen their budgets stretched thin by a whole host of previously unanticipated costs, including from purchasing personal protective equipment, testing supplies, or other medical equipment and supplies, adding bed capacity to accommodate additional COVID-19 patients, or through the loss of revenue from the cancellation of elective procedures. The quality and effectiveness of our response and our ability to prevent further spread of the virus will be largely dependent on our ability to ensure that health care providers have the resources they need.”

The Members go on to note that under the CARES Act these funds were meant to go to health facilities and providers that are working to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. They state, “Therefore, it is disappointing that the formula HHS used to disburse the first tranche of funding did not take into account COVID-related expenses that health care entities have been incurring. We urge you to ensure that this important factor is considered in future disbursements.”

The full text of the letter is available here and below.

Dear Secretary Azar,

We appreciate the efforts of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expeditiously disburse the first tranche of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF) to hospitals and other health care providers. However, as HHS prepares to release subsequent funds from the PHSSEF, we strongly urge you to ensure that all health care entities impacted by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) are able to benefit from these funds with a particular focus on areas hardest hit by this outbreak, as well as rural and underserved areas. Additionally, we believe it is imperative that your department provides maximum transparency around how these funds are being disbursed and which entities are receiving them.

We have been hearing from hospitals, health care providers, and other health care entities across our state about the significant costs they have been incurring since COVID-19 materialized as a threat. Many have seen their budgets stretched thin by a whole host of previously unanticipated costs, including from purchasing personal protective equipment, testing supplies, or other medical equipment and supplies, adding bed capacity to accommodate additional COVID-19 patients, or through the loss of revenue from the cancellation of elective procedures. The quality and effectiveness of our response and our ability to prevent further spread of the virus will be largely dependent on our ability to ensure that health care providers have the resources they need.

As you know, Maryland and, in particular, the Baltimore-Washington Corridor has been identified by the federal government as an emerging hotspot for COVID-19.  To date, nearly 9,000 Marylanders have tested positive for COVID-19, nearly 2,000 have been hospitalized, and more than 260 have died. The CARES Act’s statutory direction to HHS was very clear in its intent that the PHSSEF funds were for health facilities and providers that prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19, as well as for necessary expenses and lost revenues that are attributable to COVID-19. Therefore, it is disappointing that the formula HHS used to disburse the first tranche of funding did not take into account COVID-related expenses that health care entities have been incurring. We urge you to ensure that this important factor is considered in future disbursements.

While we understand that using Medicare Parts A and B claims from 2019 allowed HHS to disburse the first tranche of funds quickly, it has disadvantaged other critical providers that serve vulnerable and low-income populations. Exclusively focusing on this subset of Medicare providers fails to recognize the important role that children’s hospitals, nursing homes, providers in rural and underserved areas, senior living providers, and other essential providers play in this crisis. As HHS disburses future tranches of PHSSEF funds, we request that you give due consideration to expenses these providers are also incurring.

Additionally, HHS must provide the maximum amount of transparency on the methods by which the department will allocate PHSSEF funds and detail their disbursement. The CARES Act provides your department with a significant amount of flexibility in these disbursements, which makes it even more important that the public has a full understanding of how HHS decides to allocate these funds and which entities received them. 

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you to ensure that COVID-19-related federal relief funds are targeted in the most effective and impactful manner.

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