Senators Introduce the Home Health Care Access Protection Act
WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) today introduced bipartisan legislation to preserve home health care by preventing cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates. The bill has also been cosponsored by Senators Kit Bond (R-MO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Jack Reed (D-RI).
“Proposed cuts to Medicare will make it next to impossible for home health agencies to continue to help their patients. If these cuts were to happen, Pennsylvania’s home health providers would lose over $206 million over the next five years,” said Casey. “Preventive home health care is critical for our older citizens and reductions in this care would inevitably lead to greater institutionalized care. This bill will help to ensure that home health agencies in Pennsylvania and nationwide can continue to provide invaluable home health care for older citizens.”
At issue are proposed Medicare cuts to home health care that could threaten the availability of such care to seniors in Pennsylvania, Maine and throughout the nation. The first of which is a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposal to cut home health spending by more than $6 billion over the next 5 years beginning January 1, 2008.
The Senators also point out that there are very good reasons why the average clinical severity of home care patients’ health may have increased over the years. For example, the incentives built into the Medicare reimbursement system for hospitals have led to the faster discharge of sicker patients. Advances in technology and changes in medical practice have also enabled home health agencies to treat more complicated medical conditions that earlier could only be treated in hospitals, nursing homes or inpatient rehabilitation facilities.
“Home care provides compassionate care that has helped keep families together and has enabled millions of our most frail and vulnerable older persons to avoid hospitals and nursing homes and stay they just where they want to be—in the comfort and security of their own homes. And by helping these individuals to avoid more costly institutional care, we are actually saving Medicare millions of dollars each year,” said Senator Collins, who has visited with dozens of Maine home health care providers and has seen first hand the benefits of home care.
“While the need for home care is increasing, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has sought to decrease rather than increase Medicare home health funding. CMS has imposed a $6 billion cut on Medicare home health beneficiaries who are, by definition, ill and homebound and cannot fight for themselves. Such cuts are unconscionable and out of touch with reality," said Val J. Halamandaris, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice.
According to Andy Carter, President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of America, the cuts fall particularly hard on the ability of non-profit Visiting Nurse Agencies to provide home health care services to those who otherwise would have no where else to turn. “Because of their mission of treating all patients regardless of ability to pay, VNAs frequently sustain operating losses as it is already… The added financial pressure from new Medicare cuts would diminish their capacity to meet community needs,” explained Carter.