CMS Chief Says $81B Released in Accelerated Payments for COVID-19 Relief

Kerry Dooley Young

April 16, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's  Coronavirus Resource Center.

Medicare loaned the US healthcare sector about $81 billion in advanced accelerated payments as of Tuesday, in addition to $50 billion quickly moving through a separate stream of aid, a top federal official said Wednesday.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma spoke twice on Wednesday about the flow of federal money to aid medical practices and hospitals in managing the costs of the COVID-19 crisis. In an interview with Sirius XM Patriot and then on a call with reporters, Verma provided updates.

"As of yesterday, we put out $81 billion to the healthcare system," Verma said about the accelerated and advanced payments program. "Think of it as a loan for our providers, making sure that they don't have cash flow problems."

In addition, about $20 billion will be processed this week in what Verma called grants from an aid fund. Another $30 billion went out last week, she said.

These funds are meant to aid those who have not been able to work during the crisis, Verma said. Elective procedures and routine care have been put on hold.

"We will continue to work with those providers who were particularly hit hard, those in New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana — what we call the hot spots," Verma said.

CMS on April 7 said it already had received more than 25,000 requests from clinicians and medical organizations for accelerated and advanced payments. Before the emergence of coronavirus, CMS' accelerated and advanced payments had been used in the wake of natural disasters, with only about 100 such requests approved in the past 5 years.

The bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted last month, cleared these flows of financial aid to the healthcare sector, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

AMA Asks for "Additional Cash Flows"

Separately on Wednesday, the American Medical Association led a letter from dozens of state and national physician and specialty groups to Congress, seeking further financial aid in an expected next COVID-19 aid package.

While grateful for CMS' quick work on accelerated and advanced payments, the AMA and other groups said there are "significant concerns about the ability of physician practices to repay this amount of money while patients remain at home and physicians delay non-essential procedures and visits to preserve protective equipment and slow the spread of the virus."

In the letter to congressional leaders, AMA and the other groups asked Congress to do the following:

• Postpone recoupment until 365 days after the advance payment is issued

• Reduce the per-claim recoupment amount from 100% to 25%

• Extend the repayment period for physicians to at least 2 years

• Waive the interest that accrues during the extended payment period

The AMA and other groups also asked that HHS gain the authority to issue more than one advance payment.

"Given the uncertainty facing physician practices as the pandemic is on a different surge timeline in communities across the country, we fear physician practices may not resume normal operation in the immediate term and will need additional cash flows to remain afloat for patients after the pandemic is over," AMA and the groups said in the letter.

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