Mar 27, 2020 - Health

Small hospitals worry about getting bailout money quickly

A nurse walks an elderly woman down an assisted living hallway.
A rural hospital in Washington state. Photo: Nick Otto/Washington Post via Getty Images

Congress is about to provide $100 billion for hospitals and other health care providers to cope with the fallout from the coronavirus, but small hospitals have no idea how to access those funds — and many need the money immediately.

What they're saying: "A lot of rural hospitals out there need a cash infusion today," Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, told Axios. "How is it going to happen? What is the process? There are way more questions than answers."

Details: The stimulus bill says "the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall, on a rolling basis, review applications and make payments" to hospitals and other providers, out of a $100 billion fund.

  • HHS said in a statement that it "is working diligently to ensure needed aid and resources get to our health care providers on the frontlines as quickly as possible," but did not respond to questions about how that process would work.

Between the lines: Many hospitals are part of large, profitable systems that benefit from their area's demographics. The coronavirus will cause them financial distress, but they are not in danger of going under.

  • Rural and safety net hospitals, which treat disproportionate amounts of older and low-income patients, have a lot less wiggle room to call off elective procedures as they wait for a coronavirus surge.
  • Many small hospitals can't get new loans from banks and could miss payroll as soon as next week.

The bottom line: I asked Morgan how this process was supposed to work. "I don't know," he said, "and we are greatly concerned."

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