For years, professionals in the home care and hospice industries have worked non-stop on behalf of pediatric patients, geriatric patients, disabled veterans and anyone in need of home care, regardless of age or disability. This work and the challenges our patients face are largely invisible to most unless you are one of those families desperately dependent on home care services. Our industry prides itself on serving this incredibly diverse patient population, and our staff doesn’t show up for the awards every day – we come for the disabled child, the elderly patient and the relieved caregivers who count on us to keep their loved one at home and make life a little easier.
While we remain in the background in healthcare, our industry can no longer afford to remain silent. Home care and hospice providers face rising inflation, medical staff shortages and increased fuel costs for door-to-door trips, all of which are having a significant impact on patient care and access to essential home care services. These problems are further exacerbated by the current COVID-19 public health emergency and the recently proposed devastating cuts in state Medicare benefits for home health care.
Medicare cuts could send more seniors into nursing homes
Without action from our lawmakers, Medicare is poised to cut home care services by $1.33 billion in 2023 alone. Additional cuts of more than $2 billion in 2024 and beyond, which will reach up to $18 billion over the next decade, will make home care inaccessible for many patients in need. Without this funding, many vulnerable seniors cared for by home care or hospice providers will be forced to receive their long-term care in residential care facilities, taking away the familiarity and comfort of being in the home of a permanent provider and costing them significantly more as home care options.
In addition to these proposed cuts, in Texas, the state legislature and the Health and Human Services Commission are dictating rates for home care services, which already fall drastically behind the cost of inflation and competitive market wages, to attract and retain employees. Combined with this current federal funding environment, cuts to Medicare would leave over 500,000 Texas families who depend on vital home health services without a convenient option for continued care and cost billions more.
According to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, taxpayers save $33.7 billion annually by keeping patients away from hospitals for preventable, manageable medical needs – further underscoring the need for additional care options. Cutting Medicare home care services for our fast-growing senior population makes no sense, financially or otherwise, regardless of your political leanings.
Recently, Senator Stabenow, Senator Collins, Congressman Sewell and Congressman Buchanan introduced the Preservation of Home Health Access Act of 2022, which would ensure consistent payments to home health care facilities under Medicare funding and ensure that our at-risk patients and their families can count on their continued care. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would play a crucial role in maintaining home care for homebound patients and ensuring the industry can continue to provide these vital services.
Action by Congress now would save taxpayers’ money in the long run
The Preserving Access to Home Health Act is an affordable, immediate and short-term solution to maintain this important standard of care and continue to care for patients across the country without emergency hospital intervention. Although home health care reimbursement still needs further attention and development from the federal government, this legislation is an excellent first step in protecting this vital care option for our most vulnerable Americans.
Living with a disability and wanting the best possible care for your loved ones is not a political issue, and for those who desperately need sustained access to home care, this legislation is a band-aid in an increasingly difficult environment, while saving billions in unnecessary and long hospital stays. To continue to ensure every American receives the care and support they need, the home care and hospice industry is calling on our Texas leaders in Washington to pass the bipartisan Preservation of Access to Home Health Act and speak up on behalf of our patients innovative health solutions are unable to represent themselves.
Rachel Hammon is a Registered Nurse and Executive Director of the Texas Association of Home Care & Hospice in Austin.