Congress should protect access to home health care

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During the pandemic, home health care agencies and doctors in Minnesota faced a series of setbacks and challenges that made it more difficult to meet the growing demand for home care. Such challenges, including rising manpower and still high fuel costs, as well as record inflation, have exacerbated an already significant workforce crisis within the home health community, leaving an increasing number of patients at risk without care.

Now, even as the home healthcare sector continues to struggle with these factors, the proposed cuts to Medicare are threatening to take the carpet off home healthcare providers in Minnesota and across the country. The impact would be detrimental to the entire home health community, particularly the nearly 33,000 Medicare beneficiaries per year across Minnesota who depend on home health.

Despite the tremendous value home health offers to patients and families, Medicare is considering a permanent cut of about 8% in home health care services. Additionally, Medicare is pushing for another $ 3 billion in cuts that would be imposed as a “payback” for services provided since the start of the pandemic, 2020 to this year. Nationwide, these cuts would cut billions of dollars from home health care in 2023 alone, including more than $ 37 million here in Minnesota.

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

Further cuts in addition to all of this will undermine access to preferred home care services for patients and their families. This includes some of the most medically vulnerable patient groups in our state. Nearly 92% of our state’s Medicare home health care recipients live with at least three chronic health conditions, compared to just 18% of Minnesota’s Medicare beneficiaries overall. Home health services play an important role in delivering health care to patients who are simply safer, not to say more comfortable, at home.

There is a possibility that these harmful cuts could be avoided, or at least delayed, but Congress needs to act quickly. Fortunately, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have introduced legislation to address these cuts before they can cause any real damage. For the sake of Minnesota home health workers and patients, lawmakers in the Minnesota Congressional Delegation should support and help pass the Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022.

If passed, this bipartisan legislation would block the $ 3 billion “catch-up” cuts that are expected to begin as soon as 2024 and delay the proposed permanent cut of nearly 8% in home health services until at least 2026. Hopefully this will give Medicare enough time to review and readjust its approach to budget neutrality in a way that does not affect the quality or access to care for millions of American elderly and disabled people, the vast majority of whom prefer this type of personalized care and compassionate.

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

In addition, according to the survey, 78% of voters believe it is important for Congress to pass legislation that opposes Medicare’s proposed cuts in home health services, including 88% of Medicare beneficiaries and voters aged or older. at 65 years old. Our members of Congress should keep this in mind as the midterm elections approach and work together to pass legislation that protects and preserves access to home healthcare.

Kathy Messerli is the 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.

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