Coronavirus: ACP calls for primary care physician relief funds to be prioritized

April 30, 2020

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the organization says the move is necessary to keep practices operating while combatting the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The American College of Physicians (ACP) is calling on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prioritize pandemic relief funds for primary care physicians so they can continue to provide care.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the organization called for other categories of healthcare providers to also be prioritized when disbursing federal relief funds from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund (PHSSEF). These include: smaller practices, those providing care in underserved areas, and internal medicine subspecialty practices.

“Internal medicine specialists and other primary care physicians have an essential role in delivering primary, preventive, and comprehensive care not only to patients with symptoms or diagnoses of COVID-19, but also to patients with other underlying medical conditions, including conditions like heart disease and diabetes that put them at greater risk of mortality from COVID-19,” wrote Jacqueline Fincher, MD, MACP, president of ACP in the letter. “Many studies have shown that the availability of primary care in a community is associated with reduced preventable mortality and lower costs of care, yet recent surveys suggest that many will soon close without additional support.”

The letter notes that while the funds that have already been disbursed have been helpful and appreciated, they are not enough to keep practices afloat during the pandemic.

Several surveys taken during the national emergency have shown precipitous drops in patient volumes and the stress this is placing on practices.

ACP recommends that HHS set aside a dedicated portion of the PHSSEF to make primary care practices whole for lost revenue using a prospective per patient, per month due to the issues fee-for-service payments have caused practices during the pandemic. It also calls attention to the Medicare programs operating under similar arrangements, the letter says.

The letter also expresses concern with the recent decision by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to suspend the Medicare Advance Payment Program.

“This program, combined with other sources of potential revenue from the PSSPF disbursements, has been a lifeline to many practices. ACP has previously recommended that HHS and CMS extend the repayment period, and lower the interest rate to zero, for the Advance Payment Program,” Fincher wrote. “It is inexplicable that CMS has decided instead to suspend it, and the rationale offered does not support suspending it. ACP strongly urges HHS and CMS to reinstate the Advance Payment Program and implement the changes that ACP has previously recommended to improve it.”