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Top health lawmakers push HHS on COVID-19 Medicaid payments

Lawmakers in both parties push Trump administration to send out funding

HHS Secretary Alex Azar testifies during a House Ways and Committee hearing on Feb. 27, 2020.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar testifies during a House Ways and Committee hearing on Feb. 27, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Leaders from health committees in both chambers penned a bipartisan letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar Wednesday demanding relief funding be distributed to Medicaid providers.

The move is a rare bipartisan, bicameral stance against the health policy actions of the administration.

The chairmen and ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Finance Committee, which both oversee the Medicaid program, wrote to Azar Wednesday with concerns over delays in the distribution of Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund money to Medicaid providers.

The letter notes that Congress appropriated $175 billion for the providers through two COVID-19 relief laws, and while HHS allocated much of that money based on Medicare reimbursements and to Medicare skilled-nursing facilities, providers that rely on Medicaid have not received sufficient allocations.

“Many of these providers are safety net providers that operate on thin profit margins, if at all. The COVID-19 pandemic has strained their already scarce resources, threatening their ability to keep their doors open in the midst of a declared public health emergency,” wrote Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley R-Iowa, and ranking member Ron Wyden D-Ore., and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., and ranking member Greg Walden, R-Ore.

The lawmakers added that delays in distributing these funds could result in long term financial hardship.

“It could also severely hamper their ability to continue to serve as essential providers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We write regarding the need for a dedicated distribution from the PHSSEF for providers who rely on Medicaid and to share our serious concerns with the ongoing delay of funding,” they said.

These medical providers usually work in close proximity to patients and are at risk for COVID-19. Without this funding, the lawmakers say those operating on thin margins may be unable to have adequate protective equipment.

The lawmakers ask Azar to answer five questions related to the PHSSEF and the Medicaid program, such as what caused the delay and seeking details about what the updated timeline and allocations will be.

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