Congress: Harmful Medicare Home Health Cuts Still Need Repeal

by former Congressman Billy Tauzin

billy-tauzinWinter break has officially ended and Congress is back in session gearing up for a busy 2016. As we inch closer to the election, both parties are lining up their priorities for the coming months.

On the docket this week is a vote on a budget reconciliation bill to repeal major parts of Affordable Care Act (ACA) including individual and employer mandates, taxes on high-cost healthcare plans known as the “Cadillac tax,” and the further expansion of Medicaid.

These are big ticket items, but not the only ACA policies that deserve thorough review and repeal by lawmakers. When the ACA was signed into law five years ago, so were significant Medicare cuts that put American senior care at great risk.

One such policy is a cut to Medicare funding for home health beneficiaries – a patient group that is documented as Medicare’s most vulnerable population.

In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) authorized a 3.5 percent annual cut spanning the years 2014-2017 as part of the ACA. When all is said and done, this will amount to an unprecedented 14 percent cut to the Medicare home health benefit, threating access to care for millions of seniors and the jobs of thousands of home health professionals nationwide.

Further exacerbating the effects of a crippling cut is the fact that Medicare’s 3.5 million home health beneficiaries are older, sicker, poorer and are more likely to be female, a minority, and disabled than all other beneficiaries in the Medicare program combined. For example, data compiled by Avalere health found that 24 percent of home health patients are older than 85, compared to just 12 percent of the general Medicare population and 51 percent of home health patients live with five or more chronic conditions compared to just 24 percent of non-home health Medicare beneficiaries.

The steep cuts to home healthcare are also a hard hit to our nation’s rural communities. For many seniors living in rural areas, home healthcare is a vital service as the nearest hospital or medical center may be miles away. Without access to home health, these seniors may be forced to seek care in a more expensive institutional setting or choose to forgo necessary medical care all together.

As federal lawmakers prepare to vote on repealing pieces of the ACA, I ask them to remember the 3.5 million vulnerable seniors who rely on clinically advanced, cost-effective and patient preferred skilled home healthcare services. As we enter the third year of the harmful ACA home health cuts, it becomes even clearer that repeated cuts are simply unsustainable.

As we enter this New Year, I urge Congress to not solely repeal the ACA provisions currently included in the Senate-passed budget reconciliation package, but also the deep Medicare funding cuts that were included in the ACA too.

Billy Tauzin is former Chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and senior counsel to the Partnership.