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Expert: Provider Relief Fund FAQs give clues to what auditors will examine

The latest issue of Part B News has a story about the status of the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) program [subscription required]. With the first reporting deadline for the COVID-related program approaching, any provider who got money from the PRF (and there are thousands) should keep an eye on what CMS and the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) are doing about the remaining PRF dollars, the impending audits of providers who got funds and more.
We recently talked about the state of the PRF with Mike Strazzella, head of the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney and practice group leader for federal government relations:
Part B News: There's so much money remaining in the Fund, and providers are facing fresh challenges due to this current COVID wave, Do you think HRSA will release more of the funds soon?

Mike Strazzella: I think we will see is some type of change going forward. We still have approximately $32 billion unspent. OIG came out with a report and I'm sure you've seen the letter that Senators Collins and Shaheen and 40 other senators sent to HHS asking that more funds be distributed.
We don't have a really good answer as to why that money hasn't been going out yet. And that's actually surprising -- it looks like they're holding onto that money. There have been rumors about it being used to offset some of the large [congressional spending] bills that are coming through, but I just don't see that happening.
There's about $8.5 billion that has to go to rural providers, and that leaves $24 billion unspent. And when you start to really divide that up among those who are in need, it doesn't go that far. This isn't just going to 40 different hospitals.  
This is a constantly changing epidemic, and that changes how the provider community needs to react. The challenges they faced 18 months ago were different from what they faced six months ago and they're different than what they're facing today, and there's no "better" time to distribute these funds. If you're waiting to see what's going to happen tomorrow, as we've seen with the Delta variant, all of a sudden you can find yourself back to square one.
PBN: It's been reported that CMS has already hired auditors to examine PRF claims. Should practices worry?
MS: I think they're just really trying to take an accounting and see which way the wind's blowing. 
The PRF FAQs are meant to be proactive but also responsive. Clearly they've been receiving various information. The auditors have probably been asking questions. And some of that may have been communicated with them, and they're trying to make sure that there's an understanding of what this money was supposed to be used for.
PBN: So you think the new auditors may have started asking HRSA/CMS questions about the program and that may be where they came up with some of their recent FAQ questions?
MS: Yes.
Blog Tags: CMS, COVID-19
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