Certain behavioral health providers who were previously ineligible to receive federal funding to help offset the financial impacts of COVID-19 are now allowed to apply for financial relief. Those who have already received payments may also be eligible to apply for additional funding.
The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced the next phase of funding from the Provider Relief Fund Thursday. It includes $20 billion in funding for providers on the front lines of the pandemic.
Under this phase of funding, behavioral health providers “confronting the emergence of increased mental health and substance use issues exacerbated by the pandemic” will be eligible for relief payments.
Previously, only behavioral health providers paid by Medicare or Medicaid could apply. Now, an expanded list of providers will be eligible.
“Working with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), HRSA developed a list of the nation’s behavioral health providers now eligible for funding, which includes, for example, addiction counseling centers, mental health counselors and psychiatrists,” HHS wrote in a press release announcing the news.
There’s still some uncertainty about which new providers will be included on the list, as HHS only included the aforementioned examples in the press release.
The National Association for Behavioral Healthcare (NABH) is working to figure it out.
“The categories — addiction counseling, mental health counselors and psychiatrists — are a bit confusing because psychiatrists are already eligible,” NABH President and CEO Shawn Coughlin told Behavioral Health Business. “So we’re digging into it.”
Still, Coughlin lauded any expanded eligibility for behavioral providers as a positive.
He gave the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) credit for previously reaching out to NABH to ask which behavioral health providers were falling through the cracks and in need of provider relief funding. Now that HHS has acted on that research, Coughlin says he is pleased.
NABH is one of many advocacy groups that has staunchly voiced the need for dedicated federal relief funding for behavioral health organizations amid COVID-19. The National Council for Behavioral Health is another.
The HHS is especially impactful for National Council’s members, as many of them are safety net organizations currently struggling to make ends meet.
“We applaud HHS’ recognition of the increased need and immense financial strain faced by mental health and addiction recovery organizations as a result of this brutal pandemic,” Chuck Ingoglia — president and CEO of the National Council — said in a statement. “The administration’s announcement of an additional $20 billion in relief funds gives much-needed support at a time when demand for mental health and substance use treatment has skyrocketed due to increased isolation, unemployment and other difficulties Americans face during this crisis.”
The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) — another group that’s been advocating for additional COVID-19 relief for behavioral providers — echoed those sentiments, while noting that more still needs to be done.
“While this is not the amount necessary to provide relief to every program in need, it is a substantial step forward and sets a positive precedent for new funding in the future,” Mark Dunn, NAATP public policy director, said in a statement.
Other organizations eligible to apply for relief under this phase of funding include providers who have already received Provider Relief Fund payments but need additional aid due to financial losses and changes in operating expenses caused by the coronavirus. Organizations that began practicing in 2020 — who were previously ineligible — may now also apply, HHS said.
Providers can receive 2% of annual revenue from patient care, plus an add-on payment to account for revenue losses and expenses attributable to the pandemic. HHS will take into account the three factors to determine the amount of funding allocated to a provider:
- Its change in operating revenues from patient care
- Its change in operating expenses from patient care, including expenses incurred related to the coronavirus
- Payments already received through prior Provider Relief Fund distributions
Providers can begin applying for funds on Monday, October 5, 2020. The application deadline is Friday, Nov. 6.
“Do not wait until the last day or week of the application period,” the HHS press release said. “Applying early will help to expedite HHS’s review process and payment calculations, and ultimately accelerate the distribution of all payments.”
Tim Regan contributed to this story.