HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told lawmakers Wednesday that the agency will issue Provider Relief Fund guidance soon on how the money can be applied for and spent.
Addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee, Becerra didn’t say whether the June 30 deadline for spending the funds that have already been awarded would be extended, but he hinted there might be some “flexibility” for providers.
“We want to make sure we provide some flexibility,” Becerra said when questioned about the deadline by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) . “We also want accountability.”
The American Hospital Association and other groups have asked HHS to extend the deadline for spending money received through the PRF until the end of the public health emergency, which has no set end date yet.
After June 30, any unspent PRF money must be returned to HHS.
When testifying before the House Ways & Means Committee Tuesday, Becerra said HHS wants to “make sure everyone keeps to deadlines as much as possible.”
The PRF was intended to help providers weather the financial difficulties posed by the pandemic and deferred care. Hospitals also cite the increased cost of treating COVID patients.
Hospitals and health systems continue to see total expenses rise compared to 2020 levels, according to a May report from Kaufman Hall.
But margins, volumes and revenues have all increased compared to the beginning of the year but are still down compared to March 2021.
Becerra has emphasized the need for PRF accountability and transparency, criticizing the Trump administration’s handling of disbursements.
The PRF still has more than $20 billion, including $8.5 billion Congress recently approved for rural providers. Congress appropriated a total of $178 billion to the fund.
“We’re taking a close look at the Provider Relief Fund with money that still remains. We want to make sure we’re transparent in how we do this,” Becerra said Tuesday.