October 3, 2013

Tauzin Warns Democrats of Lost Seats if CMS Sticks to Proposed Home Health Pay Cuts

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Inside Health Policy

Former House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-LA) is warning Democrats that they could lose vulnerable seats, and possibly the Senate, if CMS follows through on a proposed pay cut for home health services because Republicans will portray it as an example of “Obamacare” taking their benefits. Industry convinced 142 House representatives from both parties to sign a letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner, senators are preparing a similar letter, and the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee had planned to discuss home health policy at a health care meeting on Oct. 2, but the meeting was canceled due to the government shutdown.

Tauzin, who represents the home health industry, said three-quarters of companies would be operating at net losses and would likely close, were CMS to stick with the proposed pay cuts. About 3.5 million beneficiaries receive home health services. A good portion of those who typically vote Democratic would likely vote Republican in protest during midterms, he said. He added that he is basing his prediction on recent history. Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, many seniors shifted their allegiance to Republicans, Tauzin said, and they gave Republicans a 23 percent advantage over Democrats.

“On its merits, it’s stupid,” Tauzin told Inside Health Policy. “More importantly, it’s stupid politics.”

The Affordable Care Act called for the proposed cuts so Republicans surely will use it as a premium example of that law taking benefits from seniors. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell already sent a letter to Tavenner making that case.

“I strenuously opposed Obamacare, and specifically voted on several occasions to strike these home health cuts from the law because of my concerns that they could jeopardize access to care,” McConnell wrote Sept. 24. “From the letters I have recently received from every corner of Kentucky, it is clear these fears were well-founded.”

CMS proposed to cut Medicare home health pay by 14 percent over four years — congressional Medicare advisers say it’s closer to 4 percent once separate home health pay increases are included. The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing the pay rule, according to OMB’s website, and lawmakers in both parties are trying to get CMS to change its mind.

However, Tauzin said the Affordable Care Act does not require a 14 percent cut. Rather, it merely allows CMS to cut that deeply.

Surveys by Public Policy Polling found that more than 90 percent of registered-voter seniors in some of the most vulnerable states for Senate Democrats strongly oppose the cut, Tauzin said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who is up for re-election next year, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that argued against the proposed pay cut. She said CMS underestimated the cost of providing home health care and the proposal doesn’t appear to account for other recent, significant Medicare pay cuts. She also said CMS did not include a required small business impact analysis.

“In my home state of Louisiana, roughly 78,000 Medicare beneficiaries rely on care from these important home health providers,” Landrieu said in the letter.

Tauzin said he prefers to stick to policy arguments. “I don’t like making political arguments, but no one is listening” to the policy arguments, he said.

“All they need is six,” he added, referring to the number of Democrats that Republicans must beat to take back the Senate.

See the original article here.