Monday, March 10, 2014

Home health care in jeopardy?

Cuts in Medicare spending for home health care jeopardize senior citizens, according to advocacy groups.

The February jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week represents the single highest level of monthly job loss in the home health sector in more than a decade, reports the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare.

According to the BLS report, 3,800 home health jobs were lost in February. Advocacy groups say this decline is a direct result of the 14 percent Medicare cut the Obama Administration began implementing  Jan. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The cuts will do "irreparable damage to recipients of Medicare's home health care services, those who are aged, homebound and sicker than the average Medicare population. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of Medicare home health care users live at or below the federal poverty level, meaning they are the most economically compromised of America's precious senior citizens," wrote  Dan Weber,  president of the Association of Mature American Citizens, in an opinion piece in The Washington Times. 

Weber said the cuts are counterproductive since studies show the economic benefits of home helth care.

“Using 2009 as a reference year, Medicare’s average Part A and Part B payment for a home health care visit was $145, compared to $373 per day in a skilled nursing facility or a whopping $1,805 per day in a hospital,” Weber wrote. “In addition, according to one leading expert, skilled home health care services saved the Medicare program $2.8 billion during the most recent three-year period. Approximately $670 million of that savings is attributable to 20,000 fewer hospital readmissions.”

“Despite claims that the Affordable Care Act will not result in job loss for American workers, this month’s jobs report suggests that the Medicare cut to home health is doing just that,” stated Eric Berger, chief executive officer of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare. “Obamacare’s deep Medicare home health cut is having a direct impact on the Medicare program’s most vulnerable patient population and the healthcare professionals – most of whom are women – on whom seniors depend.”

 “More than 90 percent of those providing home health care are small businesses,” Weber wrote. “According to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 40 percent of these companies will be operating 'at a loss' - that is, they will likely fold or end up in bankruptcy — by 2017 as a result of the cut."

However, the Obama administration said the home health care industry will survive, according to a report in Bloomberg Business Week.

 From 2004 to 2012 the number of home health agencies in the U.S. increased by 57 percent, to 12,215, according to data from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress. Most are for-profit companies that “have been paid well in excess of their costs,” the Medicare panel said in a report last year.

AARP has urged Medicare to reconsider the cuts and make sure seniors “have the access to home health care that they need,”  Rhonda Richards, a lobbyist for the group, told Bloomberg.


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