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Another example of why it's crucial that providers who received relief funds under the CARES Act stay on top of developments from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: HHS has once again changed its rules around how providers who received relief funds need to calculate how much of that money they can keep. The latest shift, announced Oct. 22, moves away from restrictions that forced providers to return money if their operations were more profitable in 2020 than in 2019, allowing them instead to hang on to relief funds that increased their profitability.

The agency also announced that it is expanding the range of providers that can apply for relief funds to include assisted living facilities, podiatric medicine and surgery service, ambulatory health care facilities, hospital units, and "respiratory, developmental, rehabilitative, and restorative services," among others.

The change in reporting requirements was made in light of criticism from providers, trade associations, and members of Congress who advocated for a return to the original reporting methodology announced in June. Under that system, providers were allowed to use relief funds for coronavirus-related expenses or revenues lost. Those lost revenues could be calculated based on comparisons of actual or budgeted revenue in 2019 and 2020.

In September, HHS changed course and announced that relief funds could only be applied to make up for losses in net income between 2019 and 2020, effectively barring providers from using relief money to reach budgeted revenue calculations. According to a recent policy update, the change was made "to conserve resources to allocate to providers who were less profitable." After pushback, HHS returned to its original system allowing providers "to apply [relief fund] payments against all lost revenues without limitation."

The reporting portal is set to open Jan. 15, with the first reporting deadline scheduled for Feb. 15.

That wasn't the only change announced by HHS: On October 22, the agency added 17 provider types to the list of entities that can apply for COVID relief funds. Like the rest of the providers on the list, which included PTs, the newly added providers can apply for the money regardless of whether they accept Medicare or Medicaid. A recent HHS press release includes the full list of providers added.

The Big Takeaway: Keep an Eye on HHS
The most recent changes underscore APTA's advice to stay on top of HHS changes by monitoring the association's Wednesday and Friday email alerts, regularly checking the HHS CARES Act Provider Relief Fund webpage, and signing up to receive HHS press releases (opt in at the bottom of the HHS News page).

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