Doctors Receive Immediate Relief Funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Following AOA Advocacy

AOA relief efforts in Washington, D.C.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law March 27, included an AOA-backed provision creating a new $100 billion fund to provide immediate financial assistance to hospitals and health care providers on the frontlines of the current public health crisis.

Soon after the law's enactment, various stakeholders began urging the Trump Administration to earmark the new funds for purposes other than what Congress intended. The AOA continued working with U.S. Senate and House leaders to ensure that the funds would, in fact, be directed to those on the frontlines most in need of relief, including doctors of optometry and other physicians.

On April 6, AOA President Barbara L. Horn, O.D., delivered a forceful letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the agency to make the direct payments immediately and to ensure that doctors of optometry would be recognized as fully eligible physicians under the new program.

Today, doctors of optometry and other physicians who billed Medicare in 2019 began receiving checks from the HHS to continue to support their practices during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The money provided by HHS is not required to be repaid.

The HHS notes, "This quick dispersal of funds will provide relief to both providers in areas heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and those providers who are struggling to keep their doors open due to healthy patients delaying care and canceled elective services."

In AOA's April 6 correspondence to HHS, the AOA noted, "Doctors of optometry and other physicians are in a crisis and time is of the essence. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines directing Americans to delay routine care, including primary eye and vision care, doctors of optometry and other physicians are right now facing upwards of 60-70% decreases in in-person visits." This funding is meant to help support practices that are seeing their practices impacted due to the coronavirus.

Doctors will be required to accept the Terms and Conditions PDF of the funding within 30 days receipt of payment. Doctors who receive this funding should document how the money is spent.

The funds may be used either for health care-related expenses or for lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus. This funding is not just exclusively for hospitals and other practices that are directly engaged in patient care of confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Additional financial support for doctors of optometry

The HHS has signaled that this is just the first round of funding and that it is largely targeted at physicians and others that bill traditional Medicare. The agency has indicated that the next round of funds will be released in 7-10 days. The next round of funding and subsequent funding opportunities are expected to focus on Medicaid and Medicare Advantage providers, as well as those that largely don't bill public programs. As these new rounds are considered, the AOA will continue to fight for fair treatment for doctors of optometry.

While this initial funding reflects the physician-specific relief the AOA has been fighting for since day one of the crisis, there is a recognition that this round of funding will not address the immediate crisis facing every AOA member. Along with continued advocacy in future rounds of CARES funding, the AOA will continue to fight for further physician-specific relief through AOA-backed legislation S. 3559 (Barrasso-Bennet)/H.R. 6365 (Schrier-Roe), a bipartisan bill to deliver a specially targeted package of federal crisis recovery grants and loans to doctors of optometry, as well as to other physicians.

This legislation recognizes that doctors of optometry and optometry practices nationwide are essential to their communities and, through all the hardships of a public health emergency, we are continuing to deliver urgent and emergent care in order to ease burdens on hospital emergency departments and care for our patients. Visit the AOA's Legislative Action Center to begin outreach to your lawmakers in support of S. 3559/H.R. 6365 today. The AOA is also asking advocates to prepare a 30-60 second video message describing the care you're delivering right now and the difference you're making in your community's response to the pandemic, including by easing burdens on local hospitals. Forward the video to to ensure that it will be delivered directly to your legislators.

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