Federal Provider Relief Fund Benefit Hospitals in Richer, Study Finds


New analysis highlights concerns about how federal aid has been allocated to healthcare facilities under the Provider Relief Fund, a $ 175 billion program that has drawn strong criticism for donating so much money to the wealthiest American hospitals.

The to study, published in the JAMA Health Forum on Friday, shows that more money has flowed to hospitals that were in a strong financial position before the pandemic than to hospitals with weaker balance sheets and lower endowments.

Small rural hospitals, called critical access hospitals, received lower levels of funding, according to the study, by researchers at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit group. These rural facilities are often operating under extremely tight budget constraints, and some have closed or were acquired during the pandemic.

More help has also poured in to the hospitals that are caring for the largest number of Covid patients, many of whom were large academic medical centers and large hospitals.

“There were big differences in the funding of each hospital,” said Christopher M. Whaley, one of the study’s authors, in an interview.

Analysis of 952 hospitals found that 24 percent received less than $ 5 million, while 8 percent received more than $ 50 million. Overall, small rural hospitals received 40% less funding than their larger and more successful counterparts.

The researchers did not take into account the $ 24 billion specifically earmarked for rural hospitals and benefiting from a safety net in underserved areas, which could have helped these organizations.

Congress authorized aid to cushion losses suffered by hospitals during the pandemic as patients stayed away and facilities couldn’t perform lucrative surgeries and procedures.

But some of the hospitals that received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds continued to buy frenzy during the Covid crisis, engulfing weaker hospitals and physician groups. A few big chains, including HCA Healthcare and the Mayo Clinic, chose to reimburse at least some of the money.

The devastation caused by the Delta variant has further strained many hospitals, overwhelming intensive care units and forcing some to repeat delays in elective treatments.

September report commissioned by the American Hospital Association predicted that a third of them will have business interruption in 2021. Hospitals say they are treating sicker patients, many of whom delayed care earlier in the pandemic, and pay more for staff, supplies and drugs.

Dr Whaley said the greater flow of money to financially healthy hospitals calls into question “the purpose of having these financial resources”, noting that some institutions have massive endowments and considerable assets. In contrast, rural hospitals receiving the least aid were already under financial pressure when the pandemic struck.

“Policymakers should continue to ensure that these types of hospitals are adequately funded, potentially with additional funding rounds,” the researchers wrote.

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