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Federal Relief Programs Offer COVID-19 Aid to Physicians, but More Help Needed

Advocate Masthead

ACP joining other medical organizations in calling for further funding for physicians and pay parity for telephone visits

April 17, 2020 (ACP) – Many physician practices may find some extra cash in their bank accounts compliments of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provider Relief Fund, and there is likely more to come from other federal relief programs aimed at helping health care workers stay afloat during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

These surprise deposits from the Provider Relief Fund are not a mistake or even a loan, but they are a one-time payment based on a portion of total Medicare fee-for-service revenues in 2019, explained Shari Erickson, ACP vice president of governmental affairs and medical practice. The Provider Relief Fund is part of the CARES Act, which allocates $2.2 trillion to support individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn.

The monies – $30 billion in total – began arriving via direct deposit on April 10, 2020. “The payments are going to practices, not individuals, so for those that are part of a larger medical group, the payment will be sent to the group's central billing office,” Erickson said. These relief payments are made to the Taxpayer Identification Number, not the National Provider Identifier. Practices that receive money from the fund must attest that they collected the payment and will not surprise or balance-bill their COVID-19 patients.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is also providing funding through the expansion of the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program. Like the Provider Relief Fund, payments are based on Medicare revenue, but the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program is a loan, and physicians must apply for these funds. (There is no application process for the Provider Relief Fund.) Payments under the Accelerated and Advance Payment Program are available for Part A entities, including hospitals, and Part B suppliers, including physicians and non-physician practitioners. Most can receive three months of Medicare reimbursements, while some can receive up to six months.

More relief is needed, and ACP is also asking private payers to follow suit and provide advanced payments to participating physicians, Erickson said. ACP also joined the American Medical Association and other medical organizations in calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide at least one month of revenue to each physician, nurse practitioner, and physician assistant enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid to make up for financial losses accrued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need to protect the health care system now and in the future, particularly for internal medicine specialists, because so many practices of all sizes are struggling to remain in place,” Erickson said. “Many are deeply concerned about their ability to still be in existence in the upcoming months. These funds will ensure that practices stay afloat now and make it through, so we have a functional and productive health care system after the pandemic ends.”

Along those lines, some members have also expressed frustration with navigating the nuances of the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan that aims to incentivize small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. To better understand these pain points and what is working well and to best support and advocate for members, ACP has developed a short survey. “Our goal is to capture information directly from the members to use as feedback to HHS or other payers,” Erickson said. The survey is available on the ACP website.

Pay Parity for Telephone Visits

ACP is also working to achieve pay parity for telephone visits to help practices make ends meet. As it stands, physicians are paid significantly less for telephone visits compared with video or in-person visits. In a letter from ACP to CMS Administrator Seema Verma, in addition to a joint letter from ACP and other medical organizations, the case was made for parity.

“Many patients don't have FaceTime or other services and rely on land lines to communicate with their doctors,” Erickson said. “Not reimbursing for telephone visits will disproportionally affect physicians and practices taking care of elderly and underserved patients and physicians' doors can't stay open if they can't provide care and get paid.”

More Information

Up-to-date practice management resources during the COVID-19 pandemic are available on the ACP website.

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Back to the April 17, 2020 issue of ACP Advocate