End of relief aid pressures safety-net hospitals, uninsured

The ending of federal program funds for COVID-19 relief is threatening uninsured patients who delayed care, as well as financially struggling safety-net hospitals that provide uncompensated care, The New York Times reported May 1.

Relief funds created something similar to a "universal coverage system within a system" that provided coverage to everyone with the virus, John Graves, health policy professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told the Times. The Provider Relief Fund gave hospitals tens of billions of direct funding, while the COVID-19 Uninsured Program gave more than $20 billion in reimbursements to about 50,000 hospitals, clinics and other providers.

Although COVID-19 hospitalizations are tapering off, safety-net hospitals are getting an influx of patients who delayed care for chronic conditions and other health problems that worsened over time and have become more complicated to treat.

The issue is especially challenging in Tennessee, which has one of the highest rates of hospital closures in the U.S. and has not expanded Medicaid, according to the Times. About 300,000 people are in the "coverage gap" and are ineligible for Medicaid or discounted health insurance but have little to no income.

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