December 31, 2013

Nation’s Home Health Community Urges Obama Administration to Prevent Affordable Care Act’s “New Year’s Day Surprise”

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Washington, DC – As families nationwide prepare for the New Year, home health leaders are strongly urging the Obama Administration to address unprecedented cuts to home healthcare, which were made in the Home Health Prospective Payment System (HHPPS) Final Rule, released the Friday before Thanksgiving. Lawmakers, senior advocates and healthcare stakeholders alike have cautioned that these severe cuts will directly impact millions of homebound seniors and disabled Americans by limiting their access to the clinically advanced, cost effective home healthcare they need.

The Final Rule cuts Medicare home health payments by 3.5 percent annually for four years – the maximum allowable under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – thereby imposing an unprecedented total cut of 14 percent. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), within their Final Rule, concedes that these deep cuts will leave “approximately 40 percent” of all home health providers with negative margins by CY 2017. Providers with negative margins are often forced to reduce staff, limit patient service, file bankruptcy or go out of business altogether.

“Due to the severity and suddenness of this cut, seniors advocates are calling it the Affordable Care Act’s ‘New Year’s Day Surprise.’ In keeping with the First Lady’s call for expanded health access to be a New Year’s resolution, we urge the Administration to make the reversal of this unprecedented cut a priority in the New Year. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) aims to increase healthcare access for more Americans, this deep cut stands to negatively impact millions of American seniors, their families and needed healthcare jobs beginning on New Year’s Day,” said Eric Berger, CEO of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare. “Without a correction, these cuts will limit access to home health for the Medicare program’s oldest, sickest, and poorest beneficiaries while also increasing Medicare costs when patients seek care in more expensive facility settings and bankrupting small businesses that make up nearly half the nation’s home health agencies.”

The Partnership is urging the Administration to dial back this ACA cut and preserve the ability of homebound seniors to receive the medical treatment services they need in the comfort, dignity and safety of their own homes. The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the authority to revise the rebasing cut to protect seniors’ access to home health. The Social Security Act empowers the Secretary to dispense with notice and comment on rulemaking and issue interpretive guidance modifying the cuts before or even after they go into effect on January 1.

The Medicare home health benefit is widely recognized as clinically advanced, cost-effective and patient preferred. Medicare home health services are delivered to approximately 3.5 million Medicare beneficiaries, who are documented as being poorer, older, sicker, and more likely from a minority population than other Medicare beneficiaries.