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Monday, August 26, 2013
As a health care professional in home health, I see daily the increased need for skilled health services among our state’s senior population. At the same time, we are facing dramatic cuts to Medicare reimbursement that would make it increasingly difficult — if not impossible — for our state’s home health providers to maintain the level of care elderly patients need.
These two factors don’t add up.
Home care is becoming increasingly important in our health care delivery system because of the clinically advanced, cost-effective and patient-preferred services provided. Once available only in a facility, clinicians are now able to provide complex care in a patient’s home at a lower cost.
Nearly 85,000 seniors in Virginia rely on Medicare for home health services each year. This number is growing quickly as 10,000 baby boomers across the country become Medicare-eligible each day. The availability of home health is critical to patients, their families and the Medicare program.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has proposed cutting Medicare funding for home health by 14 percent over the next four years. CMS is calling for rebasing of payments — a process intended to align payment with costs — at the highest possible rate. Proposed funding cuts to home health threaten our ability to provide the level of care our senior patients need.
If finalized in its draft form, the regulation will drive 47 of the 50 states — including Virginia — to negative Medicare home health margins by 2017. Projections suggest that our state’s home health providers will have an overall negative margin of -7.2 percent if cuts take effect. Furthermore, nearly 66 percent of our state’s home health agencies will be in the red by 2017.
No health care provider can properly serve seniors when reimbursement does not meet the actual cost of care.
Already, Medicare has cut home health payment by $72.5 billion. When combined with the proposed rebasing cuts, Virginia alone would experience $1.6 billion in cuts to Medicare home health funding over 10 years.
These figures should alarm lawmakers and regulators. These cuts will render many providers inoperable, jeopardizing patient access to services, particularly in rural areas of our state.
In the 25 years I have been working in home health, first as a clinician and now as a regional director, I have seen remarkable improvements in clinical capabilities and patient outcomes. These proposed cuts directly threaten these gains.
I understand our leaders in Washington have to make tough choices when it comes to funding federal programs, but the health care needs of our aging population cannot be ignored.
I’m urging CMS and Congress to put a stop to these cuts to protect seniors’ access to home health care.
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