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Hospitals push Congress to cancel $ 100 billion in Medicare loans

An empty bed is returned to the emergency room after bringing in another Covid-19 patient. At United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, Dr Joseph Varon is leading a team to tackle the growing number of coronavirus patients in the expanded Covid-19 ward.

Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Weather | Getty Images

U.S. hospitals are pressuring Congress to write off $ 100 billion in medicare loans that were paid off last spring to help keep the health care system afloat under over 2.5 trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief aid voted by Congress so far.

Under the loan program, the administration will begin withholding new Medicare payments on August 1, until loans made last spring are paid off. If the loans are not fully repaid within one year, providers must pay 10% interest on top of the loan balance. The American Hospital Association says healthcare systems just can’t pay for this now.

“Of all the financial issues providers face regarding federal aid, this is the most critical … which could be crippling for hospitals amid new outbreaks of Covid,” said Charles Kahn, CEO of the Federation of American hospitals, which has a countdown warning of the repayment deadline.

American Hospital Association CEO Rick Pollack said the group is calling for the full remission of Medicare Expedited Payments. “It’s a mechanically simple way to provide instant relief to people on the ground,” he said.

The AHA says hospitals remain under financial pressure with new outbreaks of Covid, even after Congress authorized $ 100 billion in grants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act last spring, which failed do not have to be reimbursed. The group argues that without more funding, half of all U.S. hospitals will operate in the red the rest of the year, with a median loss of 7%, based on a To analyse carried out by the consultancy firm Kaufman, Hall & Associates.

“In a good year at Harrison Memorial Hospital, we’re going to settle for a 0.6% margin… because we’ve been able to pay employees, take care of the community,” said Sheila Currans, CEO of Harrison. Memorial. in rural Kentucky, on an AHA call with reporters. “Today, as we sit here, we’re at about a 25% negative margin.”

The House has proposed restructuring Medicare loans, giving hospitals more time to pay at a 1% interest rate. Analysts say the Senate is considering similar measures.

“Congress is more likely to delay reimbursements or restructure reimbursements, rather than eliminate them altogether,” said Chris Meekins, health policy analyst at Raymond James.

Raymond James analysts say there appears to be bipartisan support for giving hospitals and doctors more time to repay Medicare advances in current discussions of the relief bill. Republicans have proposed extending the deadline for starting repayment until January and extending the overall loan repayment deadline.

Ipsita Smolinski, chief executive of the Capitol Street consulting firm, said Republicans had also proposed an additional $ 25 billion in grants for hospitals. But outright loan cancellation is not an option, she said, adding that the GOP “is starting to get fiscally conservative” about the back-up plans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged the bill would include “more resources for hospitals and healthcare workers. More help to keep sprinting towards diagnostics, treatment and vaccines. “, in a statement last week.

Currans of Harrison Memorial is hoping that the problems at his hospital in McConnell’s home state will persuade him to support the restructuring of Medicare loans.

“He agreed… that they would definitely take it into consideration,” Currans said.