Children's hospitals ask feds for more money amid 'catastrophic loss' due to coronavirus

Letter says kids' focused-facilities don't see chunks of government funds.

May 19, 2020, 12:29 PM

The leaders of over 75 children's hospitals across the country on Monday asked the federal government for more funding to help sustain their operations and offset the "catastrophic loss" they said they have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.

"To sustain this critical infrastructure for our nation’s children, we ask you to release a further immediate tranche of funding that includes relief for our children’s hospitals," the letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. "Our losses continue to grow and our ability to contain the damage to children’s programs decreases with every day that passes."

America’s children’s hospitals have experienced an over 40% decline in revenues and are currently incurring approximately $2 billion in losses per month, according to the letter. The hospitals are "grateful" for the money they have received so far, but said they need more now.

Hospitals across the entire healthcare system have been facing serious financial losses since the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation after cutting lucrative elective surgeries, transforming facilities and purchasing supplies and equipment in order to care for coronavirus patients. In some cases, facilities have been forced to furlough or lay off staff in the exact time that health care workers are desperately needed.

Children are believed to generally experience milder symptoms of COVID-19, but in the letter, the leaders from hospitals including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee, New York University Langone Health, and Boston Children’s Hospital emphasize they took the same costly protective measures as other health care systems.

PHOTO: Hospital staff from Children's National Hospital watch as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds fly over the D.C. area, May 2, 2020 in Washington.
Hospital staff from Children's National Hospital watch as the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Airforce Thunderbirds fly over the D.C. area, May 2, 2020 in Washington.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images, FILE

And children's hospitals are in an especially challenging position, the letter said, because some of the federal relief funding does not adequately support Medicaid, from which the hospitals draw most of their revenue. Medicaid is the federal program to provide medical coverage for low-income people, including children in low-income families. Facilities that service those with Medicare, the federal program generally for seniors, were allocated tens of billions by the initial relief package.

"We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our adult hospital counterparts and share many of the same burdens, yet children’s hospitals are unique in the health care ecosystem," the letter to Azar stated. "All the national relief benefits advanced through the Medicare program cannot reach or support our children’s hospitals."

Ultimately, the letter said that "continued delays in relief allocations are having very real repercussions for the children and families we serve."

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A representative for HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report.

The letter does not discuss a new worry among some child health care providers: an extremely rare but serious inflammatory condition in some children that's believed to be linked to the coronavirus. Late last week ABC News reported more than 200 cases of confirmed or suspected cases of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

A spokesperson for the group told ABC News the MIS-C concern "has not factored in to the current" request, but given the condition is emergeing there is concern that "as schools plan re-openings, cases could increase if COVID-19 spreads in a pediatric population."

Generally speaking, Joan Alker, the Executive Director of the Center for Children and Families (CCF) at Georgetown University, said she is "extremely concerned" about the state of pediatric infrastructure, which has only been weakened during the pandemic.

"We really need a national strategy we need our leaders to sort of thoughtfully consider and address this wide range of threats that children face right now to their health and development," Alker said. "And unfortunately there's just no sign that exists right now."

Alker said more money to fund Medicaid programs will be "critical" in the effort.

"[Medicaid is] serving our most vulnerable children, it's serving our children who have serious chronic health conditions who are most at risk of COVID many of those families have Medicaid is a wrapper around their employer coverage," Alker said. "And it's disproportionately serving communities of color who are being hit hardest by this by this epidemic."

Alker also echoed calls for the administration to act "immediately," stating "they're saying they're addressing it, but it's happening way too slowly."

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