Happy Birthday, Medicare!

Forty-nine years ago today, the Medicare program was established.

For nearly half a century, Medicare has provided access to quality, comprehensive healthcare to Americans 65 and older without fear of bankruptcy.

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Today, home health is one of the most important benefits included in the Medicare program, providing care to 3.5 million of the poorest, sickest, and most vulnerable beneficiaries in the country.

However, rebasing cuts from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (as a result of the Affordable Care Act), threaten the future of home healthcare services.

As we reflect on 49 years of progress, we must remember to protect Medicare for the Medicare senior populations of today and tomorrow.

You can help to protect Medicare and the home health benefit by asking your lawmaker to support the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act and by sending a letter to your local paper to remind others how important this Medicare benefit is for senior and disabled Americans!

Lawmakers, Media, and Community Leaders Agree: We Must Save Home Health!

On July 15, Representatives Greg Walden (OR-2) and Tom Price (GA-6) introduced the Securing Access Via Excellence (SAVE) Medicare Home Health Act to protect America’s seniors.

This bill replaces the unprecedented Medicare rebasing cuts with payment reform to achieve savings by improving care for Medicare beneficiaries and reducing avoidable spending on preventable hospital readmissions. In doing so, the bill would enable millions of seniors to remain in their homes, rather than institutional settings, achieving significant savings for the Medicare program.

In the two weeks since the bill’s introduction, media outlets, lawmakers, and leaders from senior, rural and caregiving communities across the country have joined in support of this important legislation.

Below are some highlights of the support we have seen thus far. You can take action to save home healthcare on Twitter using #SaveHomeHealth, or by sending a letter to your lawmaker in Congress today!

 

Celebrate Men’s Health Week

This week we celebrate Men’s Health Week with people across the country. This year’s theme is “Awareness. Prevention. Education. Family.”

We are thankful for this movement that encourages men to seek medical care and lead healthy, preventative lifestyles. Yet, what better way to honor the men in our lives than to make sure that they can always receive care in the setting they prefer?

Keeping in line with the Men’s Health Week theme, we encourage all Americans, particularly Medicare patients and their loved ones, to:

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BE AWARE: Unfortunately, not all Medicare patients know skilled home healthcare is even an option. Know the options – Skilled care can be provided in the comfort and security of a patient’s home.

EDUCATE YOURSELF:  Learn more about the issues impacting your healthcare. Medicare cuts put home health at risk.  Over the next four years, the Medicare home health benefit will be cut 14 percent by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  Encourage your lawmakers to protect home health!

PREVENT AVOIDABLE HOSPITAL STAYS: Home health is critical to preventing expensive hospitalizations and other facility-based care for Medicare beneficiaries by helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and congestive heart failure.

BE WITH FAMILY: Home health is keeping America’s fathers and husbands home where they want to be.

Let’s stand by the 1.4 million male Medicare beneficiaries who depend on home health by advocating to protect the clinical care services that bring home prevention and improved health.

Celebrating National Women’s Health Week

Each year, the Department of Health and Human Services kicks off National Women’s Health Week following Mother’s Day. This year, they are focusing on the theme of “Becoming Well Women.”

While this week serves as a great opportunity for healthcare providers to think about ways to help women stay healthy, home healthcare providers are already focusing on caring for women in America every day of the year.

In fact, the nation’s home health community is largely made up of women. A recent Avalere analysis shows women make up:

  • 90% of home health professionals
  • 75% of family caregivers
  • 60% of home health beneficiaries

Particularly for women in their senior years, home healthcare can provide necessary care so patients are able to remain independent at home.  The Medicare home healthcare offers these patients access to clinically advanced, cost-effective care in the home that can keep women well by preventing further injuries and illnesses.

While home healthcare offers services, support, and resources to 2.1 million senior women year-round, National Women’s Health Week offers an opportunity for us to remember and honor the female patients we serve, their care teams and the important role home health has in helping them be well women!

Celebrating Older Americans Month

Each May, we join the nation in celebrating Older Americans Month to recognize older Americans for their contributions and discuss ways to help them stay healthy. This year, the Administration for Community Living is focusing on injury prevention with the theme “Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.”

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Older Americans are at a higher risk of injury than the rest of our population, but home healthcare can help them stay safe, healthy, and independent well into their golden years.

Skilled home health offers a wide range of care for patients who are homebound or in need of skilled care, including: post-acute care, skilled nursing care for chronic conditions, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical social services, and assistance with daily living.

Since the vast majority of seniors (89%) say they want to age in place (i.e., live independently and remain in their home), we must ensure that they can do so in a safe and healthy manner. Home healthcare can be instrumental in preventing unintentional injuries and unnecessary hospitalizations for our seniors.

While home healthcare provides services, support, and resources to 3.5 million seniors year-round, Older Americans Month offers an opportunity for us to remember and honor the patients we serve and the important role home health has in helping them improve their health today and a better tomorrow.

Home Health Sector Sees the Largest Job Loss in More than a Decade

 

The December Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) jobs report projects that 3,700 home health jobs were lost in December, demonstrating the biggest loss in home health jobs in more than a decade. Leaders in the home health community have warned these cuts are directly related to the unprecedented 14 percent cut to the Medicare home health benefit, which went into effect on January 1.

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This new report confirms what senior advocates have been concerned about – this deep 14 percent cut will negatively impact millions of American seniors, their families and needed healthcare jobs.

As the unprecedented cut to Medicare home health starts to take effect, 40 percent of all home health agencies are projected to end up operating at a loss.  These agencies may be forced to reduce staff, limit patient services, file bankruptcy or close their doors completely. Avalere Health projects that a total of 500,000 home healthcare jobs could be lost.

As a result, nearly 1.5 million seniors could lose access to the high-quality, cost-effective home health services they need, and taxpayer costs will therefore rise as medical services are instead delivered in more costly institutional settings.

Medicare home health services are delivered to approximately 3.5 million Medicare beneficiaries, who are documented as being poorer, older, sicker, and more likely from a minority population than other Medicare beneficiaries.

These cuts should be stopped to protect access to care for our most vulnerable seniors.

 

 

 

What the Home Health Rule Means For Providers & Patients

Despite the concerns expressed by more than 200 bipartisan Members of Congress, leading senior advocacy organizations, patients, and providers, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) chose to cut Medicare home health payments to the fullest extent allowed by the Affordable Care Act. These cuts, at 3.5% per year, total an unprecedented cut to Medicare home health funding of 14% between 2014-2017.

Cuts of this magnitude have never been seen before. CMS itself admits that approximately 40 percent of all home health agencies will experience negative Medicare margins by the time these cuts fully take effect in 2017.

These cuts directly impact homebound seniors in rural and underserved communities who are among the Medicare program’s oldest, sickest, and poorest beneficiaries. Because home healthcare providers care for Medicare’s most vulnerable patients, adequate Medicare funding is especially critical.  In home health – unlike other healthcare sectors – private pay and Medicaid can’t be used to offset Medicare losses. Therefore, net losses in nearly half the nation’s home health agencies will inevitably lead to closures across the country, compromising the care nearly 3.5 million vulnerable seniors depend on to remain in their homes.

While the Final Rule could have devastating consequences for the home health sector, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has the authority to revise the rebasing cut to protect seniors’ access to home health.  The Secretary should update the rule because:

  • The cut directly targets 3.5 million homebound seniors, who are older, sicker, poorer, and more likely to be a minority than the typical Medicare beneficiary.
  • Approximately 40 percent of all home health agencies will experiences negative Medicare margins by the time these cuts fully take effect in 2017.
  • Negative Medicare home health margins will lead to closure of provider facilities, therefore limiting beneficiary access to patient-preferred home health.

Without action from the Secretary, access to clinically advanced, cost-effective and patient preferred care is in real danger.

November is National Home Care & Hospice Month

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and many Americans will be making their way home to spend quality time with family and friends. And while there is much to be thankful for, perhaps “home” might be the most important of all.

November is National Home Care and Hospice Month, a time dedicated to preserving andrecognizing the need for home health and hospice, while giving thanks to the many dedicated skilled nurses, therapists, and aides across the United States who care for our homebound seniors.

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Home healthcare is not only the preferred choice of most seniors; it also provides the most value. Seniors who rely on Medicare for vital home care services costs an average of $44 per day, compared to hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars per day for care in costlier settings. With baby boomers becoming eligible for Medicare last year, home health services are poised to play a key role in the coming years.

Despite its bright future, home health services are facing deep Medicare cuts by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). This past summer, CMS proposed cuts of 14 percent totaling about $21.5 billion, which do not include over $72 billion in prior funding cuts to the home health community since 2009.

Drastically reduced reimbursements for home care would be devastating for the more than 3.5 million seniors and disabled Americans who rely on Medicare’s home health benefit. So while thinking of home and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, please take just a few moments to join the thousands who have already written letters to lawmakers in Washington D.C., urging the President to protect seniors from the impact of home health cuts.  Click here to write the Obama Administration to ask it to protect funding for home healthcare for America’s seniors.

Lawmakers and Advocates Speak Out Against Proposed Home Health Cuts

stand_up_buttonIn June, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a draft regulation that proposes to deeply cut Medicare funding for home healthcare services. Cuts of this severity could threaten the delivery of quality skilled home health services for Medicare’s most vulnerable beneficiaries.

As home healthcare providers and patients wait to see whether the rule will be finalized in its current form, lawmakers and fellow advocates are standing up for home healthcare.

Bipartisan Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA) and David McKinley (R-WV) recently spoke out against these cuts together in a joint op-ed published in Roll Call.  The lawmakers wrote:

“Home health care is a vital solution to improving patient health while also decreasing costs. Home health allows patients to receive low-cost care in the safety of their homes, which reduces Medicare expenditures in more expensive institutional care settings. That’s why we believe Medicare should support and encourage the delivery of home health care.

“We are concerned that a proposed rule issued by the Medicare agency will do just the opposite.”

More than 200 bipartisan members of Congress share their concerns and have called for reconsideration of this rule. AARP, the American Hospital Association, the Small Business Administration, and dozens of other stakeholder groups have also written to CMS asking for a more full analysis of the proposal to ensure patient access to care is not compromised.

Supporters of home healthcare understand that proposed cuts of this magnitude will threaten patient access to skilled home healthcare services. As one of the Medicare program’s most disadvantaged patient populations — many of whom live in underserved and rural communities — home health beneficiaries are uniquely vulnerable to patient access challenges as well as chronic disease and medical conditions that can benefit immensely from the delivery of home health.

 

Preparing Home Health Patients for Natural Disasters

With the start of Hurricane season, we are reminded yet again of the importance of emergency preparedness for the home health sector. While hospitals and shelters help to protect many individuals in the event of a natural disaster, homebound patients often continue to rely on their home health providers to deliver the care they need before, during and after a disaster.

To help ensure patient safety and continuity of care throughout an emergency situation, home health agencies develop a preparation and response system for its staff to implement in the event that tragedy occurs.

Emergency planning starts the day a patient joins a home healthcare network. Most home healthcare providers have systems and practices in place that work to protection patients and their caregivers alike.

Once a patient enters the home health continuum, he or she is assigned a disaster classification code based on his or her condition and needs. These codes are updated regularly and allow the home health agency to prioritize care during emergencies.

For a natural disaster with warning, like a hurricane, home health agencies will start preparing patients in the days leading up to the storm. Each home health aide and manager will contact his or her patients to ensure that they will be safe during the storm, or relocated to their nearest family member or emergency contact’s home if needed.

If a patient must stay at home, their home health providers will make sure he or she has medication, medical equipment, food, and water to keep them comfortable and safe. In some cases, home health providers will even stay with patients throughout the storm or disaster. Providers will also notify the authorities about their patients and contact power companies in the event that a patient relies on electricity for a piece of medical equipment, such as a ventilator.   The goal is always to ensure that the patient’s healthcare is never at risk.

Once a disaster has hit, home health providers immediately start their recovery efforts. Within 24 hours, on-call nurses will attempt to visit all patients in the affected area, starting with the highest acuity patients. Home health providers will often work with the authorities to locate and care for their patients as quickly as possible.

Natural disasters are unpredictable and potentially devastating, particularly for home health patients with physical restrictions and health concerns. Home health professionals go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that their patients remain healthy and safe, but real security is derived from the extensive emergency preparedness and planning that takes place before events even occur.