The last year has been difficult for all of us, especially our frontline healthcare workers and providers. Throughout the pandemic, our healthcare system was stretched to the limit and tested time and time again.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Congress authorized a total of $178 billion for the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) to help cover expenses and lost revenue. However, providers face a deadline of June 30th, 2021, to spend unused funds. Unfortunately, providers have limited options for how funds may be used, which threatens to hamper recipients’ abilities to fully use their awards from the PRF.

Due to the restrictions placed around how the PRF can be used some providers have only tapped this assistance as a last resort for fear of being required to return a significant portion of funds back to HHS. This has resulted in hospitals postponing projects that would greatly assist in responding to the pandemic, like converting patient care rooms to being negative pressure rooms, allowing for more effective infection control.

In May, I led a bipartisan letter with Congresswoman Cindy Axne to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calling for greater flexibility and additional time for healthcare providers to use financial assistance they have received from the PRF.

It is important that every available dollar of assistance for our healthcare providers can be properly used. Our healthcare system is still providing complicated and necessary care for COVID-19 cases, while also working with the high costs associated with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Our doctors, nurses, and hospitals have been working overtime for over a year now to save lives and keep the rest of us safe and healthy. They deserve our support as they continue to fight this pandemic. 

The funding made available to our healthcare providers by Congress should remain available while they are still working hard to combat COVID-19. Now is not the time to pull the financial plug on them.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a resident of Ottumwa, is the former Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health and represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.

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