Congress should protect access to home health care

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Throughout the pandemic, home health care agencies and clinicians in Minnesota have faced a series of setbacks and challenges that have made it harder to meet the increased demand for home care. These challenges, including rising labor costs and still-high fuel costs, as well as record inflation, have compounded an already notable workforce crisis within the nursing community. home, leaving a growing number of at-risk patients without care.

Today, even as the home health industry continues to struggle with these factors, proposed Medicare cuts threaten to pull the rug out from under the feet of home care providers in Minnesota and across the country. The impact would be detrimental to the entire home health care community — especially the nearly 33,000 Medicare beneficiaries each year in Minnesota who depend on home health care.

Despite the tremendous value that home health care provides to patients and families, Medicare is considering a permanent reduction of about 8% in home health care services. On top of that, Medicare is pushing for an additional $3 billion in cuts that would be imposed as a “clawback” for services provided since the pandemic began — from 2020 through this year. Nationally, these cuts would cut billions of dollars from home health care in 2023 alone — including more than $37 million here in Minnesota.

These reductions would have a significant negative impact on the ability of the home health care community to support the influx of new patients referred to home care. Since March 2020, growing demand for these services has led to a 33% increase in home health referrals; however, over the same period, actual home health care admission rates have declined by 15% due to staffing issues and labor cost pressures that are already having an impact. impact on the sector. Three Minnesota home health agencies closed this year alone due to staffing shortages, and the proposed cuts would exacerbate that trend.

On top of all of this, further cuts will only undermine access to home care services that patients and their families prefer. This includes some of the most medically vulnerable and at-risk patient groups in our state. Nearly 92% of Medicare home care beneficiaries in our state live with three or more chronic conditions, compared to just 18% of all Medicare beneficiaries in Minnesota. Home health services play an important role in providing health care to patients who are simply safer, if not more comfortable, at home.

There is a chance that these harmful cuts can be avoided, or at least delayed, but it requires Congress to act quickly. Fortunately, House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation to address these cuts before they can cause any real damage. For the benefit of Minnesota’s home health care providers and patients, Minnesota congressional delegation lawmakers should support and help pass the Preserving Access to Home Health Care Act of 2022. .

If passed, this bipartisan legislation would block $3 billion in “recovery” cuts set to begin as early as 2024 and delay the proposed permanent cut of nearly 8% in home health services until at least 2026. This would hopefully give Medicare enough time to review and readjust its approach to budget neutrality in a way that does not affect quality or access to care for millions of older and disabled Americans – including the vast majority prefer this type of personalized and compassionate care.

In fact, a recent survey confirmed what many in the home health community already knew: home health services are extremely popular, not only among patients, but also among voters. According to the survey results, 91% of seniors would prefer to receive care at home, while 97% of Medicare beneficiaries believe the federal government should continue Medicare coverage for home health care – which 92 % of voters agree with as well.

Additionally, according to the survey, 78% of voters believe it is important for Congress to pass legislation opposing proposed cuts to Medicare home health services, including 88% of Medicare beneficiaries and senior voters. 65 and over. Our members of Congress should keep this in mind as we approach the critical midterm elections and work together to pass legislation protecting and preserving access to home health care.

Kathy Messerli is executive director of the Minnesota Home Care Association. She has held positions with Minnesota Medical and Long Term Care Associations and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Minnesota Chapter.