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Audit finds Vermont overpaid millions in pandemic relief to health care providers

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Did some Vermont health care providers receive too much in state pandemic aid? A new report from the state auditor says yes.

Let’s rewind to March 2020. Vermont declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Schools and businesses shuttered and the spigot closed on elective medical procedures.

Meanwhile, hospitals spent big bucks on overtime and gear like ventilators and personal protective equipment.

Through the CARES Act, Vermont’s Legislature and the Agency of Human Services funneled some $143 million to keep providers afloat.

“I’m very appreciative of all of the hard work of the agency and all of the health care providers,” said Doug Hoffer, D-Vt. Auditor.

Hoffer examined $90 million paid to 37 providers. He says over half were not eligible or were overpaid about $7 million.

“Everybody recognized a problem that had to be addressed. Nevertheless, when you create programs of that size and magnitude that quickly and implement them that quickly, you’re bound to have some problems,” Hoffer said.

Interim Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson says the state worked in record time to get money out the door to providers.

“We moved more quickly than we ever have before at an unprecedented time in our history to get money out to ensure providers could respond to the pandemic and also keep our health care system going,” Samuelson said.

The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems wasn’t available for comment but they said in a statement the provider grants were extremely important in the face of expenses and revenue loss.

The state is also going back and checking how providers spent the grants.

Samuelson is confident that the federal government won’t try to reclaim any of the money.

“So far, we haven’t found anyone who has purposefully deceived the state, instead they were moving quickly, too. With additional documentation we have been able to validate that those expenses are relevant,” Samuelson said.

We’re now in year three of the pandemic and we’re learning to live with the virus.

Right now, Senate lawmakers are considering an $80 million extension to the Capital Investment Program.

Hoffer calls the health care grants and how the program was formed a cautionary tale to lawmakers.

“There’s way too much money involved to move quickly and I say that acknowledging there may have been a justification back then to move fast, but not now,” Hoffer said.

This is the second of two audits examining pandemic aid in Vermont. A report issued in the fall concluded that two-thirds of businesses examined were overpaid.

Related Stories:

Vermont officials defend disbursement of pandemic cash

Was Vermont too generous with COVID relief money for businesses?

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