Supplier Assistance Fund reporting to continue after COVID-19 emergency

The Office of Health Resources and Services is making arrangements to continue collecting information on aid fund spending from providers even after the public health emergency is over.

The HRSA Provider Relief Fund’s reporting portal is currently operating under a public health emergency waiver approved by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Pending the expiration of the waiver, the administration recently sent a request for information collection to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

In a document sent to OMB, HRSA said the information provided by providers will enable it to assess whether recipients have met statutory and programmatic requirements, conduct audits, collect aid disbursement data, and identify trends in health care rates and spending.

According to Rick Kees, RSM’s healthcare partner, while most recipients of funds do their best to report, there is still confusion and uncertainty about the portal’s reporting process and how to properly file documents.

One way to make it easier for providers to provide payment information is to identify ways to simplify data collection by automating and pre-filling certain data fields, America’s Essential Hospitals President and CEO Bruce Siegel wrote in a public comment to HRSA.

“HRSA must minimize the reporting burden by providing clear and consistent reporting guidelines and limiting the information collected to data relevant to the PRF reporting and audit process,” Siegel said in a September 24 letter.

The American Hospital Association said it was grateful for the 60-day grace period for reporting by non-compliant providers, but in a September public comment, the association called on HRSA to allow hospitals and health systems to request extended reporting deadlines due to extreme and uncontrollable circumstances.

The AHA said recipients should also be able to retain access to funds they have already received, as many of them were unable to complete certain capital projects by the HRSA timeframe for disbursement. Delays are associated with issues such as the huge number of COVID-19 patients and supply chain disruptions.

HRSA estimates that providers will spend an average of 4.2 to 5.6 hours reporting aid fund data, including the time it takes to use technology and systems to collect and process information, train staff, find data sources, and disclose information.

However, some believe that the estimates are far from the reality of medical institutions.

“These numbers greatly underestimate the time and resources that suppliers have already spent and plan to spend on entering data into the PRF portal,” Siegel said in a public comment. “One important hospital commented that, based on its projections, it expects the cumulative time it will spend on the reporting process from start to finish to exceed 1000 hours.”

After the grace period ending November 30, suppliers paid within Period 1 in the period from April 10, 2020 to June 30, 2020 will be required to report on the use of their funds.

HRSA solicits feedback from organizations on whether the agency needs the information, its anticipated workload, and how it could make the information more usable.

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