133 Bipartisan Lawmakers Agree: We Must Save Home Health

133 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives recently expressed their deep concern with proposed Medicare home health funding cuts in a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt.

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In June, CMS released the Home Health Prospective Payment System (HHPPS) proposed rule for 2016, in which the agency proposes to cut an additional $350 million from the Medicare program’s home healthcare benefit on top of the 14 percent rebasing cut imposed on the home health benefit in January 2014.

Cuts of this nature are troubling to lawmakers and the home health community alike.

If enacted, the cuts would put small and rural home health agencies – and their patients—at greatest risk. In areas where there is only one agency, data suggest closures will likely force patients to seek care in more expensive institutional settings or, far worse, avoid treatment all together. As data from Avalere shows, the Medicare beneficiaries served by home health are older, sicker, poorer and are more likely to be female, a minority, and disabled than all other beneficiaries in the Medicare program combined.

We applaud Representatives Greg Walden, Tom Price, Earl Blumenhauer and James McGovern for their leadership on this important senior care issue and thank their 129 House colleagues for taking action to protect seniors’ access to vital home health services. We look forward to our continued work with both Congress and CMS to ensure policies are put forth that protect cost-effective and clinically advanced healthcare services for seniors in the setting they prefer – their home.

 

 

Home Health Care Services are at Risk for Rural America

Funding cuts made to Medicare home health in recent years are hurting home health providers and their patients across the country, particularly those operating in rural areas.

Powell Valley Home Care and Hospice (PVHC) has offered home health and hospice services in northwest Wyoming since 1989, but the company recently announced plans to permanently close its doors and say goodbye to their patients.

In recent years, Powell Valley Health Care’s home care and hospice services have operated at an annual loss of nearly $400,000 as a result of significant decreases in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.

PVHC is not alone in this financial struggle to provide care to Medicare’s most vulnerable seniors, especially those residing in rural communities. According to Avalere Health, 26 rural counties relied on a single home health agency in 2013, and an additional 27 counties were served by just two providers. All told, more than 631,000 Medicare beneficiaries in nearly 2,000 rural counties relied on home healthcare services in 2013.

The PVHC closure exemplifies the financial stress that rural home healthcare providers are experiencing as a result of recent Medicare cuts, which in turn threaten access for rural patients.

Despite the financial instability facing rural home health providers, the federal Medicare program is once again calling for deeper cuts.  Agencies could face another $350 million in cuts as part of the proposed Home Health Prospective Payment System (HHPPS) changes for 2016.

If more cuts are allowed to take place, further closures and patient dislocation will spread across the country, jeopardizing the health and well being of America’s most vulnerable elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries.

Our New Year’s Resolution: Protect America’s Seniors

With a new year comes a new opportunity to improve the integrity, quality, and efficiency of home health for our nation’s seniors. As Congress returns to work, we urge our nation’s lawmakers to continue protecting patients through support of the Securing Access Via Excellence (SAVE) Medicare Home Health Act.

Introduced last year (as H.R. 5110), the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act would repeal devastating cuts to the Medicare home health benefit implemented through the Affordable Care Act. If enacted, the bill would enable millions of seniors to remain in their homes, receiving highly effective care in a patient’s preferred setting.

Last legislative session, 40 sponsors and cosponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives supported this vital legislation to the continued delivery of quality home healthcare. We at the Partnership would like to personally thank each Member for standing up for some of America’s most vulnerable patients.

However, there is much more to be done. The SAVE Medicare Home Health Act must be re-introduced for consideration by the 114th Congress. Fortunately, the health and well being of our seniors is truly a cause we can all support.

Therefore, our New Year’s resolution is simple: protect patients and combat harmful cuts to home health. We hope our lawmakers will help us to make this possible!

Looking Forward to Election Day: America’s Most Active Voting Block

With Election Day just a few hours away, policymakers and thought leaders must take note of America’s most active and politically aware voting block: senior citizens.

Senior citizens play a clear, and absolutely critical role in future direction of America.  And their ballots will directly impact the defining policy decisions of the next decade.

For many seniors, the principal issue of the 2014 elections is healthcare.  And as more Americans become eligible for Medicare coverage each day, there is a heightened focus on – and concern about – Medicare policy issues. As a result, seniors are very attuned to changes that could undermine the healthcare services and providers upon which they depend.

And cuts to home healthcare will be chief amongst those changes.

Using the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration cut Medicare home health funding by an unprecedented 14 percent at the start of this year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) admitted that “approximately 40 percent” of all home healthcare providers in America would be operating at a loss by the end of 2017 as a result of this cut.

As a result, thousands of providers may be forced to close their doors if this cut stands uncorrected, directly impacting 1.3 million American seniors and costing the jobs of 465,000 home healthcare professionals, according to Avalere Health.

While 38 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on to legislation that would stop the Medicare home health cut and replace it with sustainable Medicare payment reforms, there is still much work to be done to ensure the future health of our seniors.

Therefore, the future of Medicare home health home health will be defined, in part, by how seniors vote when they mail their ballots from home or enter the voting booths tomorrow.  After all, the sustainability of home health significantly depends on public officials who truly understand the wishes of their constituents and fight for the wellbeing of senior citizens across the nation.

 

Save Home Health Rallies Show Support for the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act

We would like to thank Senator Mitch McConnell and Congressman David McKinley for their support of home healthcare and the SAVE Medicare Home Health Act.

During the recent Save Home Health rallies in Kentucky and West Virginia, Senator McConnell and Congressman McKinley spoke out about the unprecedented 14% Medicare cuts to home healthcare and the negative impact it will have on patients and jobs.

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There are 3.5 million seniors and disabled individuals who rely on the Medicare home healthcare benefit for their care.  The SAVE Medicare Home Health Act aims to protect access to care for these patients.

It is critical that we join Senator McConnell and Congressman McKinley in support of Medicare’s most vulnerable patients. Ask your member of Congress to sign on to the bill today.

Happy Citizenship Day

September 17 is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution 227 years ago today.

Being a citizen of the United States comes with many rights – and none is more important than our right to vote.

Voting is an easy task for many Americans, but it can be difficult for our homebound seniors who rely on Medicare’s home health benefit to receive quality, skilled care at home. This November, it is especially important for Medicare’s most vulnerable patients to make their voice heard. On January 1, 2014, the Medicare home health benefit was hit with an unprecedented 14 percent cut over the next 4 years, placing millions of patients, hard working medical professionals, and small businesses at risk.

Although they cannot vote at the polls in person, we can help by bringing the vote home to America’s 3.5 million Medicare home health patients.

The video below from Bring the Vote Home gives patients, caregivers, advocates, and clinicians the tools to register, obtain absentee ballots, and submit ballots from home!

Report: New Data Show Home-Based Care Saves Medicare Money

A study conducted by MedStar Washington Hospital Center found that home-based primary care incurred 17 percent lower overall Medicare costs over a course of two years.

The report published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society found patients who received home-based care had:

  • 10 percent fewer ER visits,
  • 9 percent fewer hospitalizations, and
  • 27 percent fewer stays in a nursing home.

The study comes at an interesting time, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently imposed cuts of 14 percent on the Medicare home health benefit as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

The results add confusion to an already unprecedented, value-blind decision to cut cost-effective programs for our country’s most vulnerable patients – and it lends serious weight to objections to these cuts.

Eric De Jonge, MD, co-founder of the Medical House Call program at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, discussed the study in more detail in the video below:

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!

 

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.