Although medical practices have ways to optimize their revenue cycle management, pandemic-related and other stresses can still take their toll, with physicians averaging a 32% drop in revenue since February 2020 and the average number of in-person visits to physicians falling from 97 per week to 57. Fortunately, the federal government has enacted several programs into law to help physician practices offset these financial impacts as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Health Care Enhancement Act, and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. In addition, select state and municipal financial relief programs, as well as funds established by private entities, may be available.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) oversees two of the loan programs to address COVID-19-related economic stress. The first is the 7(a) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the second is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The PPP was reopened by the SBA the week of January 11, 2021, with four additional changes on March 3, 2021, to increase availability to more underserved small businesses. As part of its 2021 physician practice financial relief guide, the American Medical Association (AMA) has outlined the availability of two programs that are still active:
- EIDL – In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, small business owners and nonprofit organizations in all US states, Washington DC, and US territories can apply for an EIDL. The EIDL program is designed to provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19. The eligibility timeframe includes businesses currently in operation through December 31, 2021.
- Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program – On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, was signed into law. It is a comprehensive omnibus spending package that funds the federal government through fiscal year 2021 and provides a new round of COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus. Included in this package is the announcement that the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments Program is continued. Repayment terms for physicians who received an accelerated or advance payment were amended October 8, 2020. On April 1, 2021, CMS announced that it had begun automatic recoupment of COVID-19 Accelerated and Advance Payments, an advance of up to 3 months of Medicare payments to help physician practices keep the lights on early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s stressed that the AMA’s guide will continue to evolve along with these programs. The AMA recommends that physicians and practices consult their financial advisors or attorneys about these programs and the information presented in the guide before taking action.