ST. LOUIS—The American Optometric Association (AOA) has informed its members that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has established a “grace period” related to reporting use of HHS provider relief funds. AOA noted that HHS “continues to encourage doctors to report use of funds by Sept. 30, 2021, for reporting period 1, however, HHS has put into place a 60-day grace period (Oct. 1-Nov. 30) to allow for additional time to complete reporting, if needed.”

HHS also is providing new relief funding opportunities that will be available later this month, according to AOA. HHS recently announced this new funding that will be available to providers affected by the pandemic, including an additional $17 billion for Provider Relief Funding (PRF) Phase 4.
New PRF Phase 4 funds will be based on providers’ lost revenues and expenditures between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, and will also include bonus payments for providers who serve Medicaid, CHIP and/or Medicare patients, according to AOA. HRSA will price these bonus payments at the generally higher Medicare rates to ensure equity for those serving these patient bases. The application portal will open on Sept. 29, AOA said, and noted that “information on the new funding opportunity will be shared as details are released.”

AOA members can find more information about the HHS programs here.

AOA noted that providers can use PPP funds and HHS provider relief funds during the same time period, but the funds must be used for different purposes. For example, a provider could use PPP funds to cover payroll for June, July and August 2020 and then use HHS provider relief funds to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or rent during June, July and August.
In addition, AOA reminded members that on Sept. 9 President Biden released the administration’s “Path Out of the Pandemic.” The executive orders accompanying the plan instruct specific federal agencies to develop rules to increase the number of vaccinated individuals in health care settings and in larger workplaces.
The Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services will be developing these rules. AOA said it expects the rules to be released within the next few days. Once issued, the AOA will provide immediate guidance to AOA members regarding the potential impact of the new rules. 
Based on the information released thus far, AOA said it expects the administration to put into place vaccination requirements for health care sites that receive funds from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. However, the president’s plan specifically indicates a focus on hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies, AOA noted.
While the rules may be broader than what has been outlined, AOA anticipates there likely will be exemptions that exist, especially for smaller physician practices.