Apr 22, 2020 - Health

Health care bailout fund reaches $175 billion

A hospital emergency building and white triage coronavirus testing tent, with workers standing nearby.
Hospitals have more taxpayer money coming their way. Photo: Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Hospitals, doctors' practices and other health care providers are getting another $75 billion in taxpayer money to cover the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, bringing the total pot of bailout funds to $175 billion.

The big picture: The first $30 billion has been dispersed to providers based on Medicare billings, which raised the ire of hospitals that treat higher amounts of poor patients and children. The federal government has said the next "targeted distributions" will go to providers in COVID-19 hotspots, rural hospitals and groups that predominantly treat Medicaid patients.

Where it stands: Elective procedures and appointments — and the large amounts of revenue associated with them — have dramatically decreased while providers prepared for the surge of coronavirus patients and bought more protective gear for workers.

  • For-profit hospital chain HCA Healthcare, which has received $700 million of bailout money thus far, said Tuesday its hospitalizations are down 30% in April compared with last year, and outpatient surgeries are down 70%.
  • However, the Trump administration and many states are allowing elective procedures to resume if areas have not been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Between the lines: Critics have questioned whether federal officials are distributing the funds appropriately, and now the government will oversee even more cash.

  • Small doctors' groups, rural providers and safety net facilities have said the money is life-or-death for them, but they aren't getting proportionate amounts.
  • Meanwhile, Envision Healthcare, the private-equity-backed physician staffing firm that has become synonymous with surprise billing, has received sizable taxpayer help even as the company cuts doctors' pay and considers bankruptcy.
  • An Envision spokesperson confirmed to Axios it received bailout funding but would not reveal how much the company has gotten so far. Based on recent financial reports and the initial federal formula, it's reasonable to expect Envision received $100 million.

The bottom line: The coronavirus funding is a lifeline for people on the frontlines, but lawmakers are not stipulating large-scale changes for a system that is expensive for patients and profitable for those running it.

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