Federal records recently made available by ProPublica reveal that from late February through early April 2021, Health Resources and Services Administration (“HRSA”), the component of HHS that administers the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, engaged multiple outside contractors for work relating to auditing and oversight of the Provider Relief Fund, with task descriptions such as “PRF audit support services,” “Audit and financial review services of HRSA Provider Relief Fund programs,” and “Program integrity support for HRSA Provider Relief Fund programs.” Amounts obligated so far for this work total more than $5.3 million.
HRSA has consistently indicated that in addition to the reports that must be submitted by all recipients of relatively large Provider Relief Fund payments, the agency plans to engage in supplemental auditing of providers to ensure appropriate uses of funds. Auditing could also extend to checks on compliance with other requirements in the Terms and Conditions, such as the ban on balance billing COVID-19 patients.
Noncompliance with program rules could result in administrative recoupment or an enforcement action. Mirroring the language of the False Claims Act, the Terms and Conditions associated with each payment state, “The Recipient acknowledges that the Recipient’s full compliance with all Terms and Conditions is material to the Secretary’s decision to disburse funds to the Recipient.”
The first reporting period will close on September 30, 2021, and the early engagement of multiple contractors suggests that HRSA will be well-positioned immediately to begin reviewing those reports and selecting some for additional scrutiny.