More of the long-promised enforcement actions related to COVID-19 pandemic relief and healthcare programs have started to unfold. This time it is demands from the Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”) that providers repay funds they have received for providing COVID-19 testing to the uninsured during the pandemic.
As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress provided funding for testing of patients without health insurance. The funding of testing for the uninsured was overseen by HRSA under the COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing, Treatment, and Vaccine Administration for the Uninsured Program. HRSA contracted with Optum to administer the program directly. Generally referred to as “HRSA funding” for testing of the uninsured, this system functioned as a claims reimbursement program wherein eligible healthcare providers submitted claims to HRSA/Optum for reimbursement, made certain attestations, and Optum reimbursed providers’ claims.
Recently, healthcare providers who billed and received reimbursements under this program have begun to receive “assessment” letters from HRSA. HRSA has generally insisted that these are not “audits,” but “assessments.” These letters generally indicate that HRSA made payments to the provider in error and demand that the provider make immediate repayment. The letters generally do not provide denial reasons or explain the nature of the “error,” and do not contain allegations of fraud. They simply demand repayment. The letters also generally do not provide for an appeal process. Where a provider receives a letter, HRSA generally also suspends payment to the provider, pending the completion of an assessment.