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HHS Clarifies Conditions for COVID-19 Grants

Terms for ASCs to keep federal money aren't as restrictive as they may have seemed.

Published: April 16, 2020

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FINANCIAL SUPPORT The CARES Act will protect Americans' health and economic well-being during uncertain times by supporting small businesses.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) has cleared up some confusion for surgery centers regarding the terms and conditions of grants provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, which allocated allocate $30 billion to Medicare providers, including ambulatory surgery centers. The grants, which will not need to be repaid, are much needed by ASCs that have suddenly closed or have severely limited their elective surgery volume.

The clarification, requested by the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA) at the behest of concerned members, addressed verbiage in the original terms and conditions that stated providers must be "currently" serving individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19 in order to keep their CARES grant funds. ASCA maintained that the intent of that language was that ASCs and other providers were eligible for the funds even if they weren't directly serving COVID-19 patients.

After the two organizations consulted, HHS has updated its CARES ACT provider relief website to confirm ASCA's interpretation. The updated language: "If you ceased operation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are still eligible to receive funds so long as you provided diagnoses, testing or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19. Care does not have to be specific to treating COVID-19. HHS broadly views every patient as a possible case of COVID-19."

HHS also updated the terms and conditions of the agreement. To qualify for the grant money, surgery centers would need to show they billed Medicare in 2019 and provide or had provided diagnoses, testing or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19 after January 31, 2020. Eligible facilities must also be active participants in Medicare, Medicaid, and other Federal health care programs.

Facilities who receive the federal money must confirm receipt of the funds and agree to the grant's terms and conditions within 30 days of receiving the payment. A web portal for doing both will open later this week, according to ASCA. To check on the status of a grant, visit HHS' provider relief web page or call the CARES Provider Relief line at 866-569-3522.

Joe Paone

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