Uncertainty over Medicare loans leaves hospitals in limbo

CMS accelerated payments to hospitals and other healthcare providers at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help temporarily relieve financial strain. Hospitals that received the loans are unsure of when they'll need to begin repayment, according to NPR

Payments on the loans are officially supposed to be due this month, but CMS has not yet started withholding Medicare payments to recoup the funds. Hospital leaders from across the nation told NPR that CMS has not said whether or when it will adjust the repayment deadline. 

In August, NPR reported that more than 850 critical access hospitals in rural areas received Medicare loans. Given the shaky financial footing of many rural hospitals before the pandemic, the strain of having Medicare payments withheld could be enough to force some to shut down. 

Edwards County Medical Center, a rural hospital in Kinsley, Kan., received $1.7 million in accelerated Medicare payments. The hospital hasn't spent the money because of uncertainty about when repayments would begin, according to NPR

On Sept. 22, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a short-term funding bill that would extend the start date for when CMS would begin recouping the Medicare loans. Under the bill, CMS would wait one year after the loan was issued before it would begin withholding Medicare payments to recoup the funds. The loans were originally due 120 days after they were issued.

The Senate is expected to vote on the measure this week, according to The Wall Street Journal.  

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