Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Disaster aid slow in coming to hospitals hit by hurricanes; aid included in appropriations bill

The hurricanes may be long gone, but areas of the South and Puerto Rico are still reeling, particularly in rural areas. That goes for hospitals too, many of which were struggling even before the storms. Some hospitals faced the double whammy of a huge — and expensive — influx of patients after the disasters, and storm damage to their facilities.

"In Texas alone, where Hurricane Harvey wiped out roads and buildings with heavy floods, 92 hospitals reported around $460 million in losses. Most of that estimate—about $380 million—came from facility damage," Susannah Luthi reports for Modern Healthcare. "But that number also includes about $40 million in increased uncompensated care costs attributable to the storm and its aftermath and $48 million from business office closures, billing and claims disruption, delayed or unpaid insurance claims and more. While for-profit hospitals don't qualify for federal aid, not-for-profit hospitals can get federal money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's public assistance program.

Congress is supposed to pass an appropriations bill by Dec. 22 that will include disaster aid to communities hit by hurricanes or wildfires. House Republicans proposed an $81 billion disaster aid package for the bill, almost double what President Trump had requested.

"The emergency aid would provide $26 billion for community development block grants, which would help Florida, Texas and the Caribbean rebuild, along with Western states recovering from wildfires," Andrew Taylor reports for The Associated Press. "There's funding for prevention of future flooding, highway repairs and help for small businesses. There's almost $28 billion for the government's chief disaster aid account, $4 billion of which could be used to help cash-strapped governments such as Puerto Rico's stay afloat."

The package would also include $2.6 billion for farm disasters. If the full $81 billion is included in the appropriations bill, that would bring the total aid provided this year for hurricane relief to more than $130 billion —more than taxpayers paid for Hurricane Katrina.

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