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Dimaano: Protect home health care

Published by The Virginia Pilot
Nancy Dimaano
September 28, 2014

Health care in the United States saves lives, but it's also a critical part of our nation's economy - driving job creation after the worst economic downturn in a generation. As our nation's senior population grows dramatically, with an estimated 10,000 Americans turning 65 daily, the need for health care professionals to treat an increasingly elderly population is immense.

Unfortunately, in some key senior care sectors such as home health, public policies and funding are not keeping pace with the higher level of patient demand we are witnessing today - a problem that would be greatly compounded by a smaller workforce. The fact is that exceptional care for a rapidly growing number of seniors requires a compassionate and dedicated workforce.

Home health is prescribed most commonly to older Americans who require ongoing services to be provided by skilled practitioners in the patient's own home. Ranging from nurse visits for IV therapy to physical therapy to chronic disease management, home health care allows patients to access care at a lower cost than facility-based settings.

In Virginia, more than 23,000 skilled clinicians and caregivers are employed by the home health care sector, which is largely made up of independently owned agencies like mine - where we deliver care to more than 300 seniors annually and employ more than 100 professionals in the Hampton Roads area.

However, significant Medicare funding cuts for home health from Washington have created great uncertainty for small agencies, our employees and - most troubling - our patients. On Jan. 1, the agency that oversees Medicare slashed funding for home health by 14 percent over the next four years. In my 26 years in home health, I have never seen a cut of this magnitude.

According to Medicare, the recent cuts will force "approximately 40 percent" of all home health providers to operate at a net loss - meaning they will face the risk of bankruptcy and closure. The administration's own estimate means that more than 1.3 million seniors and 465,000 jobs from coast to coast will feel the direct effects of this funding reduction.

In Virginia, estimates indicate that 32 percent of our home health agencies will be forced to operate at a net loss by 2017. The 27,579 seniors they serve and the 7,713 professionals they employ will likely find their care and their jobs in peril.

As the owner of a local home care agency, I see the compassionate and skilled care my employees provide to the seniors in our community. Every one of their jobs serves an important purpose, and I hope never to face the reality of losing a hardworking individual because of Medicare cuts.

Fortunately, leaders in Washington have introduced the Securing Access Via Excellence Medicare Home Health Act, legislation that repeals this arbitrary cut starting in 2015 and replaces it with hospital readmission reform to achieve savings. Only by dialing back this deep cut can Congress protect the patients and jobs it puts at greatest risk.

Protecting home health care is the right thing to do - for our state's Medicare patients, healthcare workers and small business operators who strive to provide excellent customer care. Our elected leaders in Washington should recognize the importance of home health and ensure that this critical policy solution becomes law.

Nancy Dimaano is owner of Best & Dependable Home Health Care in Virginia Beach.

See the original article here.

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