Hospital groups are pressing the Department of Health and Human Services to steer much of the Ebola funding provided to the agency last year toward the medical centers most likely to confront the challenge of treating people infected with the often deadly virus.
Hospitals that handled Ebola cases and those already designated to do so “have not yet been compensated for the substantial costs that they have faced to achieve readiness, and additional delays may undermine their ability to sustain the heightened level of preparedness associated with designation,” wrote Rick Pollack, executive vice president of the American Hospital Association, in a Feb. 6 letter to Nicole Lurie, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS.
At issue is how Lurie’s unit, known as the ASPR, plans to use its share of about $2.7 billion for Ebola response provided in the fiscal 2015 spending package. Appropriators directed $576 million of this money for ASPR. In a report to the House and Senate Appropriations committees, HHS said it is weighing how to divvy up money between Ebola treatment centers and a broader effort to prepare the nation in case of further domestic cases.
The American Hospital Association said that in allocating the $576 million, ASPR needs to “prioritize the expenses that facilities have incurred to date,” even as it also pays other costs, such as transportation, for past and potential cases of Ebola. “We are concerned that ASPR may be planning to allocate only a small portion of these funds to health care facilities that stepped forward to raise their level of preparedness to care for suspected and confirmed Ebola cases,” Pollack wrote in his letter.
The Greater New York Hospital Association also has taken interest in how ASPR parcels out the money. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed this matter with HHS Secretary Burwell at a Feb. 4 Senate Finance Committee hearing. Schumer said that about half of the people who entered the United States from the three countries hit hardest by Ebola landed at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
City and state officials in New York worked with federal agencies and “made sure that we didn’t have the situation that we had initially in Dallas,” Schumer said. Two nurses became infected with Ebola while treating a patient in Texas. Preparing to better contain the virus involved “huge outlays” on the part of some hospitals for extra training and equipment to create anti-contamination rooms, which lawmakers want reimbursed through the recently appropriated Ebola money, Schumer said.
“Can you provide us with how you plan to ensure that the Ebola treatment centers — I care especially about the ones in New York– receive appropriate reimbursement?” Schumer asked at the hearing.
Burwell said HHS is working with a contractor to help it handle reimbursement on a “hospital by hospital” basis. “In addition, states and communities will receive other parts of funding that are part of the preventative work that they did,” she said. “So there are special funds for the treatment hospitals like Bellevue” and other hospitals that treated patients.