- Federal pandemic relief funds allocated to hospitals were unevenly distributed and fell short in some communities with the highest burden, according to a report published Wednesday in Health Affairs.
- Researchers analyzed HHS data on the provider relief fund created by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and found hospitals serving very low shares of patients with employer-sponsored insurance received lower funding. They also found that hospitals serving a very high share of Hispanic residents or those in a medically underserved area were associated with decreased funding or no difference in funding.
- Some allocations were made based on real-world need, but "the relationship between need and aid should be strengthened by deemphasizing historical net patient revenue in favor of a broader set of community and hospital characteristics," the report's authors wrote.
Distribution methods for the provider relief fund have been controversial since Congress originally allocated $178 billion to prop up providers in March 2020.
Initial concerns centered around major health systems capturing hefty shares of the funds, though HHS later attempted to correct the issue by focusing other tranches on hospitals with large shares of Medicaid patients, or patients with low incomes.
Certain communities have been hit much harder by the virus, including Black and Hispanic Americans who have been hospitalized for the virus at much higher rates than other groups, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health Affairs researchers looked at HHS records on 2,709 hospitals and found some correlations between real-world need and how the money was distributed, though the results were mostly mixed.
Through early February 2021, hospitals on average received $25.7 million in pandemic relief grants, according to the report.
Hospitals serving communities with a very high share of Black residents, or those having a very high ratio of Medicaid revenue to beds, were associated with meaningfully increased funding. And having a very high number of nursing home beds in the community, or a very high amount of revenue from Medicaid per bed, was associated with meaningfully increased funding, the research showed.
But some other metrics that demonstrate greater need for relief didn't result in increased funding, the report found.
Hospitals serving a very high share of Hispanic residents were associated with decreased funding or no difference in funding, as were those in a medically underserved area, the report found. And hospitals serving very low shares of people with employer-sponsored insurance were associated with lower funding.
The findings come as some of the funds still remains undistributed. The American Hospital Association urged HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in an Aug. 17 letter to expeditiously distribute more than $40 billion still remaining, and for HHS to distribute the $8.5 billion allocated in the America Rescue Plan for rural providers.
AHA also asked earlier this year for more flexibility and extended deadlines for using the funds.