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Shaheen, Cassidy Lead Bipartisan Group of Senators Calling on CMS to Address Medicare Program Interest Rates for Health Care Providers on Frontlines of Coronavirus Pandemic

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) led a letter today with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and a bipartisan group of 32 Senators, calling on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to waive or modify interest rates for health care providers who’ve sought financial assistance amid the coronavirus pandemic through Medicare’s Accelerated and Advance Payments Program. This program has historically been used to expedite Medicare payments to subsets of Medicare participating providers during very limited circumstances where there is disruption in processing or submission of claims for Medicare services.

This program was expanded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to allow for hospitals, physicians and other Medicare-participating providers to apply for upfront payments from Medicare to help cover revenue shortfalls as a result of COVID-19. However, the program requires that if these payments are not recouped within certain timeframes (e.g. within one year for hospitals) after the advance payment was made to the health care provider, CMS is required to charge interest on the difference between the amount recouped and the total advance payment amount. Based on current Treasury regulations and rates, the applicable interest rate is set at 10.25 percent for repayment of Medicare’s accelerated and advance payments for hospitals and other health care providers who have not completed repayment by the applicable due date.

In their letter, the Senators underscored the serious concerns health care providers have with such a high interest rate and how it will add additional financial stress to health care providers across the country as they navigate an unprecedented health and economic crisis. They wrote, “Hospitals, physicians and other health care providers have significant concerns about the 10.25 percent interest rate and the implications of such interest rates on their ability to participate in the Accelerated and Advance Payments Program. Our frontline health care providers and medical professionals across this country need financial support to continue their vital work in responding to COVID-19 and dealing with the economic consequences of this pandemic. Given the unprecedented nature of this crisis, more flexibility on interest rates and repayment of accelerated and advance payments will be very important.”

“We applaud Senator Shaheen’s bipartisan efforts to help alleviate the overly burdensome interest rate for hospitals and other health care providers who take advantage of the Accelerated and Advance Payments Program under Medicare as authorized under the recently enacted CARES Act,” said Steve Ahnen, President of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. “These accelerated Medicare payments will help provide an immediate influx of financial resources to hospitals who are experiencing substantial financial challenges due to the significant loss of revenue from suspending non-urgent, elective procedures as they prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients.”

The Senators closed their letter by calling on the agency to consider extending the window for collecting the full payment, or consider all potential authorities available to waive or modify the high interest rate.  They ended their letter with a call for understanding and flexibility as health care systems and providers fight through the severe health and economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senators wrote, “The continuity of our health care system and its ability to respond to the clinical and economic impacts of this public health emergency will require ongoing financial flexibility from CMS, in partnership with Congress.”

The letter can be read in full here.

In addition to Shaheen and Cassidy, the letter was signed by Senators King (I-ME), Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Bennet (D-CO), Perdue (R-GA), Carper (D-DE), Capito (R-WV), Durbin (D-IL), McSally (R-AZ), Jones (D-AL), Hawley (R-MO), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Rubio (R-FL), Warren (D-MA), Barrasso (R-WY), Markey (D-MA), Gardner (R-CO), Peters (D-MI), Loeffler (R-GA), Rosen (D-NV), Daines (R-MT), Gillibrand (D-NY), Sinema (D-AZ), Stabenow (D-MI), Smith (D-MN), Coons (D-DE), Blumenthal (D-CT), Hassan (D-NH), Klobuchar (D-MN), Heinrich (D-NM), Reed (D-RI), Murphy (D-CT) and Scott (R-SC).